ST. PETERSBURG — A bad year for the Oakdale Christmas Display means only 20,000 visitors.
The organizers look forward to good years, where 50,000 swarm the usually quiet Oakdale neighborhood.
People come from around Tampa Bay, across the country, and even overseas to see the spectacle that swallows up the corner lot in front of the house at 2719 Oakdale St. S. There are hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights, pretty much every species of stuffed animal you can think of, a blinking 75-foot tall tower, a 21-foot inflatable snowman, fountains, waterfalls, statues, streams of bubbles, model trains, animatronic figures, live music and a sermon from television evangelist Billy Graham playing on a loop. There is no Santa Claus here. The Oakdale Christmas Display wants to remind you this is Baby Jesus’ season.
The free display, which has only grown during its 45 years of existence, gets increasingly crowded as Christmas approaches. As you’re driving around trying to find parking, you may wonder: What is it like to live near all this?
Troy Devin is a good person to ask. He’s been in the neighborhood since he was 14.
“I haven’t drank the Christian Kool-Aid, but they do it nice,” said Devin, 55. “They do it to spread the word, so more power to ‘em.”
He remembers when the display was smaller, and people mostly knew by word of mouth or fliers passed out in local businesses. Once TV news found out, the crowds started coming. Before everyone got maps on their phone, he’d regularly give directions to lost motorists.
In the last decade or so, things have improved. Volunteers, donning neon orange vests and armed with walkie-talkies, point drivers to designated parking areas.
Still, Devin’s parents, who own two dozen houses in the area, try to give new tenants a heads up.
“We told them, for one month out of the year, we get lights,” he said. “It’s a little crazy.”
The tradition always starts the day after Thanksgiving and continues every evening until Jan. 3.
“The most crowded day is Saturday by far,” said Ted Kresge, the man behind the lights. “The second most crowded is Sunday. The least crowded is Monday, and it very gradually goes up from Monday through Friday, almost like a slow, upward slope.”
After Christmas Day, Kresge said, there’s a dramatic drop-off in traffic.
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Nancy Burris, 51, likes to walk by the house with her mutt, Huck. During the daytime, there aren’t many people around.
“I brought my kids here 20 years ago,” she said. “It’s funny to live here now.”
“As wacky as it is, it’s adorable,” she continued. “It’s not a bother.”
Taylor Bauer moved to the neighborhood in September from Illinois. He didn’t know about the house until he checked out the neighborhood on Google maps. He zoomed in on a point of interest down the block: The Oakdale Christmas Display.
“I was looking forward to that,” he said. “I freaking love Christmas.”
From where he lives down the block, you can’t hear much from the display or the visitors. Bauer works late shifts, so he typically doesn’t see most of the people who pass through to visit. Not that he’d mind it.
“It’s Christmas,” he said. “How could you not be happy around that area?”
Gary Alexander, 70, has rented his house in Oakdale for a few years. He appreciates the volunteers who put cones out so cars don’t block the driveways. So far, he hasn’t experienced trouble.
He knows the display is popular with kids. But he also has a soft spot for it.
“He inspired me to put out more lights this year,” he said.
Allen Worral moved to the neighborhood two years ago from California. A couple of friends warned him about the display. He was worried it might be a nuisance, but volunteers direct most of the traffic away from his street.
“They make sure that they’re not a problem,” he said.
“Our first Christmas was COVID,” he added. “It was nice to get away and see something bright.”