Lu­mi­nary night tra­di­tion unites Windy Hills

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­

Take a drive through any neigh­bor­hood, and you’ll surely find a few houses decked out with a Christ­mas light dis­play that would make even Clark Gris­wold jeal­ous.

But the res­i­dents of Windy Hills take the Christ­mas cheer to the next level with their an­nual lu­mi­nary night tra­di­tion, when the streets of the neigh­bor­hood are lined with nearly 4,500 white pa­per bags il­lu­mi­nated with vo­tive can­dles.

“This is one of the big­gest nights of the year for the neigh­bor­hood,” Stu­art Richard­son, vice pres­i­dent of the civic as­so­ci­a­tion, said last Fri­day night as he drove the streets of Windy Hills judg­ing the an­nual dec­o­rat­ing con­test. “It’s a neigh­bor­hood feel. Ev­ery­body comes out and greets their neigh­bors.”

In­deed, the side­walks were crowded as res­i­dents strolled around check­ing out the dec­o­ra­tions. In one drive­way, neigh­bors gath­ered around a fire pit, so­cial­iz­ing and mak­ing s’mores. At other houses, the res­i­dents set up ta­bles of­fer­ing candy canes, cook­ies and other good­ies. Santa rode around on a fire en­gine greet­ing kids. The Turner family even set up a pro­jec­tor in their Pinedale Road yard and screened the Bing Crosby hol­i­day clas­sic “White Christ­mas.”

The event evokes feel­ings of Christ­mases past, sim­pler times when neigh­bors all knew each other.

“It’s like ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ I’m not even kid­ding,” said Kim Turner, who serves as pres­i­dent of the civic as­so­ci­a­tion.

The tra­di­tion dates back at least 30 years, ac­cord­ing to JoAnne Shaw, who has lived in Windy Hills for more than five decades. Her late hus­band, Char­lie, headed the civic as­so­ci­a­tion for many years and helped grow lu­mi­nary night into what it is to­day.

“It’s been quite a won­der­ful tra­di­tion over the years,” Shaw said. “You get a feel­ing of to­geth­er­ness and ca­ma­raderie. It’s really quite beau­ti­ful.”

Plan­ning for lu­mi­nary night starts shortly af­ter Thanks­giv­ing, Richard­son said. The civic as­so­ci­a­tion buys the bags and can­dles, and vol­un­teers count them out be­fore street cap­tains dis­trib­ute the dec­o­ra­tions. Each of the 375 houses in Windy Hills gets 10 lu­mi­nar­ies, with cor­ner prop­er­ties re­ceiv­ing more.

Ryan Claeys, whose mother lives on North Dill­wyn Road, said they have been dec­o­rat­ing the house for about five years. At the end of the drive­way, they set up a ta­ble of­fer­ing cook­ies and candy canes.

“It started in­no­cently with the lu­mi­nar­ies and has grown and grown,” Claeys said. “It’s been cool to see the evo­lu­tion of it.”

Per­haps the bright­est house in the neigh­bor­hood is on Win­nwood Drive, where Bill Stew­ard III and his son, Bill IV, filled what seemed like ev­ery inch of their yard with lights and other dec­o­ra­tions. The lights are set to mu­sic, and a sign di­rects passersby to tune to their ra­dios to 87.9 FM. Last Fri­day, vis­i­tors walked through a canopy of lights cov­er­ing the side­walk, and a work­ing train set in the mid­dle of the yard drew the at­ten­tion of many.

The fa­ther-and-son duo be­gin plan­ning the dis­play each sum­mer and start build­ing it right af­ter Thanks­giv­ing.

“We live for this all year,” the son said.

He paused to watch a family stand­ing un­der the canopy of lights, with two young kids cap­ti­vated by the dis­play.

“Right there is why we do it,” he said.


Bill Stew­ard III (sec­ond from left) and his son, Bill IV (sec­ond from right), dec­o­rate their house ev­ery year for Windy Hills’ lu­mi­nary night.

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