By Tess Malijenovksy
Christmas — the one special time of the year that American families like to dress up their houses. We’ll put a tall tree in the living room, a wreath just outside the front door or maybe we’ll get dad to nail the icicle lights along the roof gutter. Others say, forget it. Let’s just take a drive, because we’d rather hop in a car with some family and check out the house that never lets us down. That one special house so decked out in Christmas spirit that it looks like Kris Kringle himself descended upon it and said: “Let there be light!”
Westwood Circle: Charles and Ester Daniel
Driving down Parris Island Gateway, Charles and Ester’s luminescent property pops into your line of vision like an airport out of nowhere. A large light-up sign cheers on traffic: “Merry Christmas.” Santa is on the roof in his sleigh with his seven reindeer rigged and preparing for take off, Rudolph’s red shiny nose ready to lead the way. LED reindeer graze the lawn, and bright white lights dust their trees and fence like star snow.
“This is our fifth year and I think we’re going to be doing it forever,” Charles laughed. “The first year that I did it, it was just lights around a couple of trees. Then the grandkids came over the next year and we added more.”
The beautiful display does come at a cost. The family spends about a month setting up and forks up an extra $250-$400 for the electric bill. But, it’s a feat that the Daniels know the neighbors and children anticipate each year now. The reindeer on the roof is usually the first thing Charles tackles with his engineered pulley system. However, their Christmas display is a gift that in return brings priceless joy.
“I love Christmas because I get joy out of watching everybody else be happy. And I tell you, with these lights I get to see so many kids come back here and they got these big smiles on their faces and it just lights up my whole life,” said Charles.
Tom and Sherin Florio
“It’s very much tradition,” says Tom Florio. He and his wife, Sherin, have been setting up their fanfare Christmas wherever they’ve lived along the 40 years of their marriage. “Everyone expects it. It’s almost like the people themselves can’t wait to see it for their own babies.”
Along with flashing tree lights of all colors, there are giant snow globes sitting in the front yard just beyond the candy-cane fence. Inflatable Santas and Santa dolls are scaling ladders and chimneys. Toy trains circle around his living room and the doorbell chimes Christmas carols! Tom is even known to throw on a Saint Nick suit from time to time and bellow out a great “Ho, Ho, Ho” from the bottom of his heart. Onlookers are welcomed to pull into the semi-circle driveway to get a better look at the animated dolls. Animation, says Tom, is what separates his house from the others.
“The whole issue of this, lighting and all, is for the children, not only mine but the neighborhood children,” says Tom. It brings him the greatest joy to watch the cars stop all day long and have people tell him, “It’s beautiful. We knew you wouldn’t let us down!”
After one Christmas, Tom recalls, a family he’d never met left a set of lights by the door with a note that said: Use ‘em next year. It goes to show that the Florios have an expectation to live up to, and each year after Halloween Tom puts in 100 man-hours decorating his house. Eventually the Florios would like to have a backdrop of lights to bring out their “penguin center,” a designated corner of inflatable penguins with toboggans peeping out of their igloos.
James F Byrnes Street: Amanda and David Cadd
The Cadd family gets to work just after Halloween to host an equally impressive display much like a Christmas theme park. Amanda, mother of Dawson, 9, and Andrew, 7, says they do it for their kids. “There’s always that house that you have to have that makes memories for the kids when they’re little,” said Amanda. Her kids like to run around in the Christmas park that is their front yard and ask mom if they can come out again, just once more, before bedtime.
There are multiple scenes scattered across the yard from a gingerbread house to Mr. and Mrs. Claus to friendly snowmen. “We’re already talking about what to do next year,” Amanda said. The Cadd family actually builds many of their own decorations from wood like the Snoopy and Charlie Brown gang.
It’s indeed a tradition that comes from another: “I grew up out in the country where there wasn’t a lot of houses, so when we would go to look at lights it was very memorable,” Amanda recalls. “Since we’re able to do this in a location where people will be able to see it, I think that’s what makes it special too.”
Dawn and Bryan Randel
Newlyweds Dawn and Bryan Randel get the honorable mention for the Most Modern Design. “It’s our first Christmas together and we just wanted to make it special,” said Dawn. Thick strands of white lights coil around the giant pillars in front of their house on Sunset Boulevard to bring out its structure. Large stars also hang at the middle of the pillars. “We used the stars from our wedding reception, so we were recycling too,” laughed Dawn. The combination compliments the house’s architecture with a simple and chic alternative look to seasonal lighting.