By SARA-MEGAN WALSH, The Big Book
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) – Cars slow down as they drive past Bigda’s house on the Shadow Wood Trail in Winter Haven as children, and those still young at heart, roll down their windows to better see with flashing lights.
Bill Bigda, 62, can remember how as a child he begged his parents to walk past a favorite Christmas light display every night. Now he and his 38-year-old son Tony make it their annual goal to create a stage of wonder for others and raise money for charity.
Santa’s House by the Bigda’s is a synchronized vacation display that features over 100,000 lights with dozens of popular Disney and childhood characters. Many displays come to life with the movement, like Pokemon riding a carousel swing and classics like Donald Duck and his family pedaling a bike for four.
“It’s like our Christmas card to the whole community,” said Tony Bigda, the owner of the house.
The family tradition began 38 years ago in Ludlow, a small town in western Massachusetts. Bill Bigda started hanging Christmas lights for his son’s first Christmas and it quickly grew.
Bill Bigda said he saw what holiday decorations were being sold and quickly decided it would be more interesting to move – and he could do it. His first moving lawn figure was Snoopy from the Peanuts comics, ice-skating as he lazily spun in circles. The room is always well exposed.
For the father-son duo, it became a hobby to find interesting scrap or recycled pieces by the side of the road and turn them into Christmas decorations. All of the popular characters are hand-drawn on plywood by Tony Bigda, and then family members including his wife, Taryne, and 9-year-old son, Logan, step in to paint them.
It’s not a show without the music. All of the lights are choreographed to six different soundtracks created by Tony Bigda, who makes sure there is something for everyone. Installation takes at least 500 hours, Tony Bigda estimated, as it incorporates personalized visitor parking instructions and on-screen information.
Each year, the family begins turning on the lights on October 1. Since LEDs can be any color, they often set them to orange, purple, and black for Halloween. In November, the real setup starts with a race and ends it on the first Saturday in December.
“At the end of the setup, we usually wonder if we’ve gone too deep,” Tony Bigda said.
In 2020, the house was selected to feature in ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight in 2020. That was ultimately the year the Christmas lights were hardly ever hung. Bill Bigda said he had a medical issue that took him to hospital and the family had to make the tough decision to go ahead with the decoration or skip a year.
The Bigdas got away with it and ended up taking first place.
“We weren’t expecting it,” Bill Bigda said.
His wife, Diane, added: “It was surreal.”
For those who have visited Bigda’s home before, the family is continually adding something new to the display. This year there’s a blue locomotive where kids can ring the bell and take a selfie, according to Bill Bigda.
It has become a popular spot, judging by foot traffic on a Thursday, and is only accessible from the neighbors alley.
Neighbor Kim Westphal said she was not disturbed – the area’s many bright displays and holiday decorations are part of what drew her to the area when she bought her home five years ago . So her husband, Dave, approached the Bigdas last year to resume their courtship.
“(Dave) told them to take as much as you want from the yard,” Westphal said with a laugh.
Thus, from November 1, the Bigdas began to stake lights and figures on their neighbor’s lawn. This space features a new custom figurine that pays homage to the Cypress Gardens water ski team.
“You can’t do this without having good neighbors,” said Diane Bigda.
Visitors to Bigda’s house are encouraged to consider making a small donation to be donated to a charitable group. This year, the family selected Polk Sheriff’s Charities, Inc, a nonprofit organization that provides financial support to Polk residents facing traumatic events.
“Whether it’s a kid next door or someone on the street, the money stays here and helps the children of Polk County,” Bill Bigda said.
Last year the family raised around $ 3,600, according to Tony Bigda, and they hope to beat that number this year.
Santa’s house near the Bigda is located at 4314 Shadow Wood Trail in Winter Haven. The display operates Sunday through Thursday from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM and Fridays and Saturdays from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Those who drive can tune to 87.9 FM to hear the music.
The night light show can be viewed until December 31.
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