Go on a carriage ride at Christmas at the Library — Photo courtesy of Billy Graham Library Facebook page
Eighty years ago, a 16-year-old boy who had grown up on a dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina, made a commitment to Jesus Christ on a "Decision Card." That commitment turned into a lifelong ministry that would reach more than 200 million people in more than 185 countries.
This Southern Baptist minister, Billy Graham, was a spiritual adviser to many U.S. presidents, as well as a close friend to several, and he became known as "America's Pastor." A recipient of numerous awards and medals, Graham has preached about Christianity to more people than anyone else in the world and authored several books. His son, Franklin, took over his father's evangelical operations in 2000.
Many of Graham's supporters now want to ensure that his ministry continues. The Billy Graham Library does just that, according to his grandson, by not focusing on Graham himself, but more importantly on Christ.
Billy Graham's great-grandchildren turning on the lights — Photo courtesy of Billy Graham Library
At Christmastime in years past, Graham would gather his family around the massive fireplace in his and his wife Ruth's country home and read the Christmas story, as told in the Bible, to all five children. Now those children have children of their own, who return to this special place to carry on the tradition their grandfather started with them.
Each year at the Billy Graham Library on the opening night of the festivities, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren read the Christmas story to others and press the all-important switch that illuminates the decorative lights on the property.
More than 20,000 people visit the library each year. Some just to drive through the property (40,000 square feet on 20 landscaped acres) to see the lights, but the real joy is in visiting the exhibits. The American Bus Association named the library's Christmas celebration one of the top 100 events in the U.S., and the Southeast Tourism Society put it in their top 20.
The library lights — Photo courtesy of Billy Graham Library Facebook page
Located close to the Charlotte airport off Billy Graham Parkway, the library is easily accessible from interstates 77 and 85. It's just more than two hours from Asheville, North Carolina, and an hour and a half from Greenville, South Carolina.
At the library's holiday events, from Dec. 1 through Dec. 23, visitors see a live nativity (complete with camels) and enjoy musical entertainment, caroling and carriage rides through the light displays (adults $7, children $3). Admission to the property is free, as is parking, with shuttles available and wheelchairs, if needed.
A petting zoo and storytellers on the patio will entertain the kids. The Christmas books are available to purchase. The patio is covered, and heaters and apple cider helps keep everyone warm.
It's the busiest time of the year at the library, but a weekday is going to be less crowded for touring the complex. Enjoy food and fellowship at several Christmas dinners, which take place in the headquarters building behind the library. Check the website for specific dates. Dinner for adults costs $18.95 and $8.95 for children. Reservations are recommended.
The Graham Family Homeplace and Billy Graham Library — Photo courtesy of David Berkowitz
The library grounds
Funded entirely through donations, the Billy Graham Library complex consists of the library (housed in a huge barn structure with a large cross-shaped entrance), the Homeplace (moved from its original location in 2006 to its current site) and the Memorial Garden, where Graham's wife rests. Also buried here are members of Billy Graham's former Crusade team, George Beverly Shea, a soloist singer, and Billie Barrows, who played piano.
Take in the beautiful gardens from the relaxing patio of the Dairy Bar, in rocking chairs just like at Graham's home (at age 95, he still resides just outside of nearby Asheville). Order specialities, like Mother Graham's Chicken Salad Sandwich or Poundcake, or try Graham's own favorite, barbecue.
The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina — Photo courtesy of David Berkowitz
Beyond the Christmas festivities
Christmas festivities start at 5 p.m., but you'll want to go earlier to soak in the whole experience.
See Graham's childhood home, complete with most of its original contents. Inside the library, shop Ruth's Attic for ornaments, books and unique gifts.
But be sure to do the Journey of Faith tour. It takes about an hour and a half and is well worth it. There are no guided tours, but there are volunteers on hand to answer questions. Picture-taking is allowed, minus the flash.
It was newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in 1949 who encouraged other papers around the United States to cover Graham and his revivals. Some of his radio sermons are still broadcast today. Graham made Gallup's list of the most admired men and women 55 times, more than anyone in the world. But again, according to the library, his offspring and many visitors, it is not Graham, but "God's power on permanent display."
A living ministry, the library transforms lives daily, as visitors encounter the love of Christ through the story of Billy Graham. Whether visitors feels the call to fill out their own Decision Card or just simply feel the love and peace here, the Billy Graham Library is worth a stop your next trip to Charlotte, and at this time of year, Christmas at the Library gives pause to remember the real reason for the season.
Rev. Doctor Billy Graham — Photo courtesy of I Like Rev. Dr. Billy Graham