Sharing and spreading seasonal cheer

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 | 8:06 p.m. CST; updated 4:02 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 24, 2009
These folks see holiday decorations as a way of giving back to their community.

COLUMBIA — Some people string up Christmas lights as a holiday tradition. Some do it to compete with their neighbors.

For two families in Columbia, their lighting displays mean much more.


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For Bill and Kris Tenny-Brittian, an elaborate Christmas display evolved from an argument. 

"Nineteen years ago he was a Grinch," Kris Tenny-Brittian said about her husband. "There were no lights. He did not like Christmas, and we fought our whole first Christmas together."

With his wife's prompting and determination, Bill Tenny-Brittian caught the holiday spirit, and their Christmas display has become more ornate over the years.

At their home on West Boulevard between Worley and Ash streets, they have built a display with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, Rudolph and Santa, a slew of  penguins in scarves and a forest of dancing trees.

Still, the couple remains concerned about making it something people enjoy.

"We're very careful," Bill Tenny-Brittian said. "We try to be tasteful. I want a display that makes people smile and inspires them."

One of the benefits of their work is helping others catch the Christmas spirit.

"As we've become more elaborate, neighbors and people nearby have increased their decorating," Bill Tenny-Brittian said. "In fact, we had a neighbor come to us this year wanting us to see their decorations."

Adds Kris Tenny-Brittian: "The other night, a family was out there with this little girl dancing in the yard with the music. It keeps you going, and you want to do it more."

For Sharon Emery, a holiday light display on Stirling Court, off Highland Drive, is about carrying on her husband's legacy.

Bob Emery, who died this spring, made his displays by hand. He included a race car in honor of Carl Edwards, a church with a swinging bell, a gingerbread house and a Nativity scene.

After people began driving by the house, he decided he wanted to make a difference by raising money for Habitat for Humanity. He set out a donation tin can.

"His goal was always to raise enough money to help Habitat for Humanity build a house," said family friend Kenneth Kavanaugh.

"We chose Habitat for Humanity because 90 percent of what we collect stays right here in the community," Sharon Emery said. "It's the people of Columbia giving back to Columbia."

This year, members of the Old Wheels Car Club, a group to which both Kavanaugh and Bob Emery belonged, banded together to help erect the display to continue Bob Emery's dream.

"I wasn't going to put them up," Sharon Emery said. "I'm so glad now that they forced me to do it. It's helping me get through the holidays. The first couple weeks, I couldn't be in any of the rooms facing the street. I hid in my basement to avoid them."

That all changed when she started talking to people. Hearing how much the display meant to Columbia over the years changed her mind.

"Now I love them all the more," Emery said. "It's a very comforting feeling to be out there with the lights. I feel like my husband's with me."

Nightly she collects donations and greets everyone who drives by to see her husband's masterpiece. She often gives away hugs of gratitude to those who donate.

"I feel like I'm surrounded by the love of the community," she said.



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