With the economy in a downturn and community support ebbing in recent years, the Spring Hill Community Association's annual Angels on High Christmas display has never experienced greater challenges in its eight years.
Association president Ed Lawrence hopes the beloved celebration can beat the odds by enticing newcomers and old friends to come and experience what has become an endearing holiday tradition.
"We want people to know that we're still here and it's still fun to come visit," Lawrence said of the display, which will open a four-night run Thursday at the association's Lake House community center, at 1202 Kenlake Ave.
Although the celebration lacks the pizazz of its early years, Lawrence said this year's display might turn things around. His optimism stems from an upswing in this year's entries, which will add 20 lighted angels to the display.
"I think we had only about 30 last year," Lawrence said. "But there's been a big spark in interest. I think with the economy the way it is, people are longing to do things that give a deeper meaning to the holidays."
The lighted display is something of a throwback to small-town traditions, when neighbors would gather in town to enjoy the color and splendor of holiday decorations. The individually designed wooden cutouts of angels are built and sponsored by business owners, community groups, school groups and individual residents.
The decorations are suspended in the trees along a winding path through 5 acres of woods next to the community association's clubhouse. After touring the display, visitors can stop by the clubhouse to enjoy hot cocoa and baked goods for sale by local charities, which benefit from the proceeds.
For several years, Angels on High enjoyed the success of being the largest public holiday display in western Hernando County, drawing upward of 8,000 visitors over its eight nights. However, fewer sponsors and volunteers to run the event forced the association to cut back the number of nights to four.
"We just couldn't keep it going like it was," Lawrence said. "We just didn't have the manpower."
The association has since been able to land a number of new volunteers from area schools and civic organizations.
This year's display, which runs nightly from 6:30 to 9, will be sponsored by four children's charities: Baby Love Pregnancy Crisis Center of Spring Hill, Our Baby R.I.A. Foundation, Barney's Kids and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hernando.
In addition to the lighted angel pathway, the association will host a nightly visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus, plus continuous live entertainment on its Palmwood Pavilion stage.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.