Most people watch the Chevy Chase film “Christmas Vacation” and marvel at his character Clark Griswold’s dedication to “exterior illumination.” In a certain west Bradenton neighborhood, pretty much everyone approaches holiday decorating with Griswoldian gusto.
Welcome to 12th Avenue Drive West.
Better known as Christmas Street.
It’s a road adorned with everything from a touching nativity scene to a 9-foot-tall polar bear.
There are Peanuts characters.
A handsomely hand-painted Grinch.
A smoking chimney with stockings hanging from it.
And several Santa Clauses.
Another arrives in a hot air balloon.
As for what Griswold calls “exterior illumination,” the houses on Christmas Street can probably be seen by people flying to and from SRQ Airport.
Teresa and Paul Foley moved in June from Clearwater to Manatee County’s own winter wonderland. They met with the former owners two days before they closed on their new home.
“How much do you like Christmas?” Teresa and Paul were asked.
They had no idea what would be expected of them. Fortunately, they are fans of the holiday and have some seriously awesome neighbors who gave them some starter decorations.
A big, beautiful white Christmas tree.
Large, shiny star.
Lengthy strands of twinkling lights.
Plastic candy canes.
The gorgeous wreath on the door.
These items brighten the Foleys’ front yard in their extremely close-knit neighborhood, which after many years of devotion has been transformed into a Christmas destination spot.
“But they finally cut us off,” Teresa said jokingly from her festively enhanced dining room. “They told us it looks like we have the hang of it, and now we’re on our own.”
Of the Foleys’ numerous contributions, one in particular grabs the eye: the high-flying “Holly-Copter” purchased recently at Big Lots. The inflatable features Kris Kringle in the cockpit of a huge helicopter ready to land in the east end of the Foleys’ front yard.
“It took him four hours to get that up,” Teresa said as she flashed her husband a smile.
“It might not have taken that long if I’d had it facing the right direction,” Paul responded sheepishly.
Preparations begin on Christmas Street the day after Thanksgiving.
“Everyone was out here,” Teresa said, her voice still recalling her native England although she has lived in the United States. nearly two decades. “It was amazing.”
“Cars started driving by that Friday,” added Paul, who spent a recent week of vacation from his job at 1-800-Endoscope making sure all the little lights would be twinkling.
The Christmas Street holiday beautification tradition dates back to the 1970s. One year, a neighbor used a baseball pitch indicator to calculate the cars that visited. He counted more than 3,000.
Some people drive past slowly. Others park their vehicles and walk around to get a closer look at the seasonal spectacle and listen to the holiday music that fills the air.
“It has been going on a long time and then it kind of faded off,” Teresa said. “But last year and this year some new people have moved to the neighborhood and really jumped on the bandwagon.”
Last Friday, the couple estimated 120 cars and three or four buses from local senior centers visited Christmas Street. The numbers will only swell as it gets closer to The Big Day.
The neighborhood celebrates the congestion by throwing outdoor parties.
“So while you are trapped in your home from ‘Christmas light traffic,’ I hope you will take a short walk and join me for a drink and some finger foods,” reads a flier left on the Foleys’ door, inviting them to an upcoming gathering.
When it’s the Foleys’ turn to entertain, they plan to make use of their RV parked in the driveway and pay homage to the scene in “Christmas Vacation” where Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) empties his chemical toilet into Griswold’s sewer.
“I’ve got my Cousin Eddie costume all ready,” Paul said.
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow him on twitter @accentbradenton. Visit his blog, Buzz Worthy, at bradenton.com/blogs