There's more to the holiday ritual than just putting up thousands of lights, installing hundreds of batteries into dancing Christmas bears and trains, and churning out fake snow. • For Don Chill, turning his home at 1925 Beckett Lake Drive into a lighted Christmas wonderland for folks to enjoy goes well beyond a family tradition. • "It's his ministry," said Rosemary Chill, his wife of 31 years. "When we met, he was never this outgoing. Now, he just about turns every stranger into a lifelong friend."
The display also has helped raise about $33,000 for Clearwater's Kimberly Home, a nonprofit resource center that offers assistance to women in unplanned or troubling pregnancies.
For most of the past 26 years, Don Chill has taken two weeks' vacation and worked through the night to create a Christmas light display that has drawn thousands of people to his home just off the Sunset Point and Belcher road intersection.
There are so many lights, Chill can't count them.
During the time of the display, he said his electric bill is $1,000 more than normal.
A substation maintenance electrician for Progress Energy, Chill is often asked if he gets a break on his electric bill. The answer: "absolutely not."
There are more stuffed animals than Chill can recall.
A small carousel for children to ride and two snow machines hide in a tree branch and blow fake snow through the back yard.
Five of Chill's neighbors have joined the annual event and allow their back yards to become part of the Christmas spectacle.
While folks stroll along the side of his house under a lighted tunnel, Chill always takes time to have conversations. He keeps quarters in his pocket to keep the carousel going for the children.
"I just do it," Chill, 53, said, checking one of the seven train sets that run through the night. "It's automatic now."
There is a small donation basket for those who want to contribute. Chill said 100 percent of the money goes to the Kimberly Home.
"I don't tell people what to do, but I do like for people to know that there are options and places where they can get help," he said.
The annual Christmas event has been rewarding in another way, too.
Two women have come to the Chills' front door holding young babies. They told him that after visiting the display and learning about the Kimberly Home, they decided to keep their babies.
"I call them miracle babies," he said. "What better reward can there be than that?"
Kate Kelly, executive director for the Kimberly Home, said the contribution is about more than money.
"Don is sort of like an ambassador to Kimberly Home as well," Kelly said. "He's been able to touch the hearts of many people with information about this ministry and the support services available to pregnant women and families."
Chill enjoys the lights, but he also enjoys making stuff for the display. He turned ceiling fans into mobile swings for stuffed animals. He put motors under Mary, Joseph and the three wise men in the nativity scene so that they rotate.
A lighted Santa flies through the air on a sleigh behind three reindeer. Chill brought in two bales of hay for a nativity scene.
There were two years when the Chills didn't do the display. One year they decided to go skiing, something that the locals didn't like, and in 2005, he had a battle with cancer. With a ponytail going down his back, he is fine now.
Sensing that it may be time to downsize the scale of the display, Don Chill said that this will likely be the last year he includes the back yard. But he and his wife know that it is too early to make a final decision.
When November rolls around, what would Rosemary Chill do if she did not hear footsteps on the roof in the middle of the night as her husband began preparing his Christmas ministry?
"There comes a time," Don Chill said. "Everything has a season."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.