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Knob Hill Christmas lights
San Marcos resident Bill Gilfillen has put on an iconic Christmas light display at his home on Knob Hill for the more than 30 years. Photo by Tigist Layne
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Iconic Knob Hill Christmas light display returns in San Marcos

SAN MARCOS – The famous “Christmas on Knob Hill” light display has returned, to the excitement of San Marcos residents.

Bill Gilfillen, the display’s creator and owner of the home, took a break from the beloved tradition in 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis.

For more than 30 years, Gilfillen, an 83-year-old retired Navy flight engineer, and his family have hosted Christmas on Knob Hill at their home at 1639 Knob Hill Road.

Until Dec. 30, passersby can gather to see more than 100,000-holiday lights cover the Gilfillen residence, along with displays of Santas, reindeer, snowmen, sleighs, Disney characters, giant candy canes and more.

One of his new decorations this year is a printed sign proudly displayed upfront that outlines some of the Gilfillens’ values. It reads: “In this house, we believe Black lives matter. Women’s rights = human rights. No human is illegal. Embrace the science. Love is Love.”

According to Gilfillen, this year’s light display took three months to get this year’s display set up with lights and displays that he’s been collecting for 30 years.

Longtime tradition

“The reason I started doing it was because when I was young, growing up, the only thing that we had at Christmas time was going around and looking at the lights because I come from a very poor family,” Gilfillen said. “It was just plastic figurines and so forth at first, but it quickly grew to quite an elaborate display, and now we have people from all over San Diego, Arizona and Los Angeles that come to see the display every year.”

On Monday night, Gilfillen, wearing his mask, happily walked outside to greet the visitors, many of whom came from different cities and states. In previous years, families could also enjoy a visit from Santa every night for about a week before Christmas.

Knob Hill Christmas lights
Christmas light display at on Knob Hill in San Marcos. Photo by Tigist Layne

This year, Gilfillen tells the kids that come by that Santa won’t be at the house this year, but he will be at each of their houses on the night of Christmas Eve.

“I just enjoy doing it. I love to make people happy. I just love people in general, like I enjoy interacting with people and it gives me a lot of pleasure to just see people when they walk up to the display to see their eyes light up and smiles come on their faces,” Gilfillen said.

Last year, the Gilfillen family made the difficult decision to cancel the display for their safety and for the safety of visitors. The family issued a statement back in 2020, which was also written on a whiteboard outside of their home:

“To all our friends who visit Christmas on Knob Hill: For the first time in over 30 years, due to the virus and our concern for our families’ and friends’ well-being, we will not have a display this year. But we promise 2021 will be bigger and brighter.”

Gilfillen delivered on his promise this year of a bigger and brighter display. The only thing they ask is that visitors wear their masks while enjoying the lights.