McALLEN — Four-year-old Ella Cather liked the snowman and his hat. She surveyed the cacti and mesquite tree woodlands here Wednesday, pausing to admire the ornamented Christmas trees that stood out from the farmland scenery.
With a barn that hosts more than a dozen of farm animals and a Christmas tree forest, where her favorite snowman stood and welcomed guests, Ella was too restless to pause for a family photo. There was too much to explore.
Ella and her family spent the afternoon at Maddie’s Christmas Lights, a holiday display at Rick Vega’s ranch in McAllen. This is the first year they turned their 5-acre backyard into a winter wonderland, but this November was the second time they hosted Maddie’s Pumpkin Patch.
“People really liked the pumpkin patch,” Vega said. “They were kinda sad that the fall season ended and we would have to close. Then people started asking if we were going to do a Christmas edition, and I told them we did not think about it; we only thought about the patch. Then more people asked us and I just said, ‘I guess we are.’”
Though he did not have plans of transforming the land into a holiday-themed exhibit, Vega says that he took the challenge and “with my gift of imagination and my wife’s gift of creativity, we made Maddie’s Christmas Lights.”
“It’s faith, you just make it happen,” he added.
Vega explained that his inspiration to put Maddie’s Pumpkin Patch together in late October 2017 following his 1-year-old daughter, Maddie’s bout with pneumonia. After two weeks in the ICU and two surgeries, Maddie came home on Oct. 13 just in time to celebrate the fall season.
“Maddie’s Pumpkin Patch and which is now, Maddie’s Christmas Lights is a dedication to the celebration of life,” said Vega. “I had no idea how it was going to turn out but I knew it was going to be awesome because God is behind us.”
In honor of Maddie’s full recovery, Rick brought the North Pole to South Texas. Red bows and red carts are easily spotted throughout the ranch and glimmering white reindeer guarding the area. The forest, which takes up most of the display bears an enlightened path that guests can trek on a hayride, barrel ride or on foot. Along the trail were multiple photo stations with varying themes, ready for guests to take their holiday photos.
Ivan Gonzalez, photographer of Maddie’s Christmas Lights, says that people love the display because of the copious photo opportunities available.
Gonzalez has been taking photos at the site since the first debut of Maddie’s Pumpkin Patch and says that it has been a popular shooting spot ever since.
Amy Cather, Ella’s mother, says that the display reminds her of her home in Bishop, Texas, a small farming town.
“What I like about it is the rustic feel,” said Cather, former teacher at Juan Diego Academy. “I grew up in a small town and had more farmland around, and this place takes me back. I wish I could have seen the Valley years ago as my grandma describes it, and I think this place is close to it. That’s what’s appealing to me, to see all the citrus, and the quiet and the outdoors.”
Maddie’s will be open through Monday. The entrance fee is $7.