Luminary night tradition unites Windy Hills
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.