Nativity in lights

Winning display illuminates meaning of Christmas: Jesus’ birth.
Tuesday, December 23, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:52 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Joe and Peggy Hendren enjoy sharing the meaning of Christmas even if the sharing is not voluntary.

For the past six years, the Hendrens have created an elaborate Christmas light display in their front yard at West Phyllis Avenue. From the growing number of glowing angels in the Hendrens’ yard, the illuminated scene beams the original meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ.

Regardless of the thousands of Christmas bulbs the Hendrens hang, not everyone sees the spiritual light. Last year, a customized angel, donkey and sheep were stolen from the Hendrens’ front lawn. That did not deter them.

“This year, we replaced it and doubled up,” Peggy Hendren said.

The additional effort paid off for Joe and Peggy Hendren, this year’s first-place winners in the Columbia Holiday Lights Contest.

Even neighbors, who might have cause to complain about needing sunglasses to sleep, share the joy of the Christmas display.

“The neighbors are very supportive of it,” Peggy Hendren said. “One of my neighbors says their grandkids have a contest to see who can count the number of angels in the yard and come up with the right number. “

The Hendrens are not sure of the exact number of lights, but if you’re counting, they have 85 angels scattered throughout the lawn, all illuminated. But you will not find an inflatable Santa Claus or plastic candy canes in the Hendrens’ display. “That way you can’t miss the meaning,” Peggy Hendren says.

Like others, she starts preparing her decorations early.

“I started pulling them out in October, and I keep an eye on it,” she said. “I work all year in planning. It’s never exactly the same.”

This year, she added seven animated angels and tacked them between two handmade 6-foot-by-12-foot signs. She also refurbished all the figurines in the 4-foot high Nativity.


Third Place: A toy soldier salutes passers-by in Donna Stover’s illuminated yard at 213 Holly Ridge Lane.

The Hendrens are repeat contest winners. They placed third in 2001. Because the rules prohibit back-to-back winners, they were not judged last year.

“The biggest change I made from our third place was the flying angel,” Peggy Hendren said. “The neighbor said we could use her tree, too. Then my husband had the brilliant idea to string the angels across the yards.”

For winning the contest, the Hendrens were awarded $300 — not enough to cover their December electric bill. Laura Baker, executive assistant at Boone Electric, said that five strands of lights displayed for 30 days adds $10.50 to an electric bill. .

“It increases our bill between $300 and $400 in December,” Peggy Hendren said. “It’ll be a lot. We switched from little to big bulbs, and that makes a difference, too, because it takes more energy for the big bulbs. “

Seven judges picked the winners Sunday. The only criterion for participation is living within Columbia city limits.

The Wildhaber family on Wild Ginger Court won $100 for second place, and Donna Stoner on Holly Ridge Lane received $50 for third.

For the Wildhabers, designing the lights is a family project.

“My wife and I have been doing this since we got married 22 years ago, just like both of our parents before us,” Mike Wildhaber said. “Our kids caught the bug when they saw people admire the display and say things about it. My brother and his wife even made us large wooden deer so they could be a part of the display.”

The Wildhabers’ yard celebrates the Christmas season. It flickers with Santa’s smile, snowmen’s glow and a reindeer’s nose. There is even an area that the Wildhaber children designed.

“We have one area that Eric and Rachel wanted, called Toyland, where we decorated boxes to look like large presents,” Mike Wildhaber said.

The Holiday Lights Contest is sponsored by Westlake Ace Hardware, Coca-Cola, the city of Columbia and the Columbia Missourian.

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