A Summit County family delights motorists with 45,000 Christmas lights and hand-crafted exhibits while collecting food for a local pantry.
One Medina County home literally draped in lights invites visitors to drop off a donation to Akron Children’s Hospital, while another homeowner nearby includes a plea to support animal rescue groups in his choreographed yard display.
And in Portage County, a man dispenses candy canes outside his colorfully decorated home while inside, his wife responds to children who have dropped off letters to Santa in their curbside mailbox.
Certainly, most homeowners who tack up lights and plug in the inflatables just expect cars to slow down a bit as they pass on their way to somewhere else.
For others, their elaborate outdoor displays invite passers-by to stop and act.
Earl Brueggeman started bedecking his yard at 657 Longmere Drive in Kent with Yuletide images before Halloween so he’d be ready to throw the switch at Thanksgiving.
But that didn’t mark the end of his work. Almost nightly, if the weather cooperates, he stands streetside in his Santa costume greeting cars and inviting children to drop off letters to Santa.
When his wife, Myrna, isn’t playing Mrs. Santa at his side, she’s inside mailing letters back to the kids.
“We’ve passed out about 70 dozen candy canes and have gotten about 200 letters so far this year,” Santa Brueggeman said one recent evening.
While Ron Marhofer Chevrolet helps keep the Brueggemans in candy canes and postage stamps, the couple happily bears the rest of the cost of buying and powering up 64 inflatables, flashing lights and music. Images include Spiderman, Darth Vader, Eeyore, Hello Kitty, the Three Stooges and a 20-year-old Nativity set that has been part of his display from the start.
“How many smiles do you put on faces in a year’s time? I put it on thousands of faces,” Brueggeman said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a ministry. I don’t drink, so this is my beer money,” he laughed.
The display runs from 4 to 11 p.m. nightly through Jan. 7.
In Twinsburg, residents know to head for the home of Brian and Anne Bailey at 9872 Burton Drive.
As with the Brueggemans, it takes a couple of months to set everything up. But unlike the Kent home, everything here is homemade — including snowmen having a snowball fight, a train set with spinning wheels, Santa and his flying reindeer, playful penguins, a gingerbread house, and a dozen or so extra fir trees made of wire and lights.
And at the end of the drive is a homemade larger-than-life mailbox that collects food and cash donations for the Emergency Assistance Center of Northfield, as well as a handful of letters to Santa.
Last year, the Baileys collected 260 pounds of food and $270 for the agency that helps area families in need. This year, they hope to double those amounts.
Anne Bailey loves that sometimes the street is so busy, “I have a hard time getting into my driveway,” she quips.
The Baileys have been serious about their outdoor display for 13 years, but only added the charitable angle last year.
“We’ve supported the [Emergency Assistance Center] over the years and we knew they help local families with food and utility bills and other ways,” Anne Bailey said.
So when she asked her husband how hard it would be to make a giant mailbox to collect donations, he jumped on the idea.
The Baileys plan to keep their display lit nightly from 5:45 to 11 p.m. nightly until Jan. 6.
In Medina County, a pair of homes just a half mile apart have inspired neighbors to make an extra effort with their own properties, said Mary Viskocil, who stood outside a home at 1228 Alexandria Lane in Medina watching an elaborate program play out on the cul-de-sac.
“I think more people are putting up lights,” she said. “There’s a lot to see.”
But for the moment, she had her eyes on the “Cartier’s Christmas Magic,” where a sign in the yard notes that a “pre-show” program runs nightly from 5 to 7 p.m., and a “post-show” program from 7 to 9 p.m.
Motorists are invited to tune into 100.5 on their radio while video projectors fill upstairs windows with images with Santa and Mrs. Claus talking and singing, sometimes with their pets. Flashing lights on the homes of two neighbors are choreographed with the show.
But the homeowners also hope to inspire people to open their wallets.
The Cartiers encourage visitors to support animal rescue efforts, while not far away, the Kirschnicks hope to raise money for the Akron Children’s Hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
The Kirschnick home, at the corner of Lexington Ridge and New Haven Drive, is draped in strings of lights creating a bright aura that can be seen long before visitors reach it.
In past interviews with media, the family said after losing a child in a pre-term delivery one week before Christmas, they wanted their display bright enough to be seen in heaven.
Their front yard holds a donation box for the hospital and instructions on other ways to give.
The Kirschnicks and the Cartiers couldn’t be reached, but you can learn more about their efforts on the Internet: Visit “kirschnicklights” on Facebook, or watch “Cartier’s Christmas Magic” on their YouTube channel.