- December 7, 2018
Standing in front of Tim Cunningham's home in Riverwalk is like being transported to the Island of Misfit Toys.
Rudolph, Clarice, King Moonracer, Santa, Yukon Cornelius and others from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys" light up Cunningham's front yard each year.
The idea expanded from the first Christmas decoration Cunningham and his wife, Stacie Cunningham, bought when they moved to Florida in 2007.
It's an animated plush scene featuring Rudolph, Hermey and Yukon Cornelius.
Cunningham found a light-up Rudolph first, and over the years, he's added to his collection.
"There's always something a little different, and that's what I think people appreciate," he said. "It's not just re-displaying the exact same thing each year. In July, I start writing down notes of what I'm going to change that year."
Cunningham said his lights display is a "labor of love."
It takes him at least three full days to put up more than 25 main light-up pieces, a large arch going over the driveway, holiday lightbulbs strung from the house to the big tree in front of the home and lights along his gutters.
"I'll see how many people ride by and stop and the kids will get out and look around," Cunningham said. "That's what it's all about. It's about the neighbors and people enjoying it."
There are multiple stories to be found in Mike Wilder’s display at 9220 65th Ave. E.
One is the story of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," told through wooden cutouts which Wilder made, drew and painted himself.
His property includes icons such as Snoopy’s dog house and Lucy’s psychiatrist booth, while topping it all off is a projection screen showing the television special on a loop.
Adjoining those materials are a small nativity scene with the words “Hope and Joy” displayed in large letters and a billboard featuring a passage from Luke 2:14, read by the character Linus in the special.
He said the display also reflects his family history.
The “Hope and Joy” cutouts were made by his father, Callfrey Wilder, while an old-fashioned, incandescent strand of Christmas lights, which a group of wooden reindeer appear to be tearing from the roof, comes from his father-in-law Clarence Scott.
One Christmas tree in the yard was donated by his daughter’s mother and father-in-law, and another a coworker wanted to leave behind after her husband died. A wooden snowflake was used in the winter dances at Lakewood Ranch High School, where Wilder was formerly assistant principal.
Wilder said the purpose of the display is to “honor Christ and to honor the neighborhood.”
"I do it because of the love that I have for the community, and I want them to hopefully be inspired every day when they drive by and they see ‘hope’ and ‘joy,'” he said. "Hopefully that puts a smile on their face.”
Its history is still unfolding.
In a few months, Wilder said, the decor will be passed on to his son, David Wilder, when he moves from Brandon to Bradenton with his family to take over the home.
Wilder and his wife, Mary, will enjoy a new home in the RV David Wilder’s family currently lives in, traveling in the winter of 2023 to Mackinac Island, Michigan, and then along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail the next year.
He said David Wilder might choose to go with a different idea for the display — perhaps "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" or another Christmas-themed property.
What to check out some of the area's top light displays? Check out these addresses in East County: