Each October, Lanoka Harbor resident Bill Sheppard begins the long process of setting up his Christmas decorations for the season. It may sound early to start getting ready for the holidays, but Sheppard's display is quite a bit more complex than your average string of lights hung from the gutters or inflatable snowman.
Just about every square inch of Sheppard's yard is covered in twinkling lights and vibrantly colored standees of cartoon characters. The characters are hand-painted, and vary from Christmas standards to ones from recent animated flicks.
The festive display is celebrating its 35th year of delighting local children and grownups, and grows in size and number of characters every year. Last year included the basset hound from the popular film, "Underdog," as well as the animated Disney characters Phineas and Ferb. This year's additions? Angry Birds and Darth Vader. Sheppard also reconstructed his Sesame Street characters.
Other characters have been on display for years, and you'll see everything from Power Rangers to Pocahontas. A few have been retired, such as the California Raisins, which children today would most likely not recognize.
Sheppard — with help from his family — cuts and paints them all, and surprisingly, designing and creating the new characters is one of the least time-consuming aspects of assembling the display. A couple of nights' work, and he can turn a blank piece of plywood into a uncanny representation of a beloved children's icon.
"In the middle of October, we start bringing stuff out of the shed. We look over every piece," he said. "If it needs touching up or redoing, we put it on one side. If it's ready to go, we put it on the other side."
The process has become easier with each year, he said. In the past, Sheppard used to do a handful of figures within a month. Now he can do more than a dozen within a week.
His personal favorites are the Disney characters, of which many can be found among the lit rows. His first effort, a snowman, can still be seen alongside newer ones in the back yard, which the display has expanded to over the years.
The most amount of work is put into preparing the lights. There are more than 50,000 of them strung about, and Sheppard tests each bulb individually to make sure they work before he hangs them. That many lights are sure to raise anyone's energy bill, and Sheppard estimates his more than doubles during the duration the display is up. Within the last few years, he's replaced any power-hungry large bulbs with the more energy-conscious smaller ones, but admits to increasing the number of lights overall to make up the difference.
In addition to the display, Santa visits his workshop on weekend nights leading up to Christmas. One end of the garage is converted into "Santa's Workshop," and families bring their children to sit on Santa's lap to share their Christmas lists. He has a good rapport with the kids, a skill he said developed over many years of practice.
Sheppard is also know as the founder of the Lacey Christmas Parade. Originally he would hire a Santa to ride on a firetruck and lit up his home.
"My wife and I moved down from the city and started it to bring the family down here," he said. "It grew more and more each year. We started a mini parade."
Eventually, the parade became so popular that it was no longer feasible to have just at his residence. The township opened up Lacey Road to Sheppard, starting the official Christmas Parade, which he ran for 20 years before passing it onto the Lacey Elks.
The colorful display is located at 213 Bay Way in Lanoka Harbor, and cannot be missed by anyone driving by. If you're busy in the days leading up to Christmas, but would like to see the display, don't fret; Sheppard keeps it lit every night through the first week of January.
Santa will be at his workshop from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday for the next two weeknds. From Friday, Dec. 14 through Tuesday, Jan. 1, lights will be on from 6 to 11 p.m.
This story was originally published in December 2010 and is updated annually. If you know of any other homes spectacularly decorated in Lacey Township, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.