PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- For Frank Defreitas and Gertrude Hodge, the Christmas season invariably highlights the entire year. While enjoying the merriment from festivities and family like the next person, these siblings further embrace a special responsibility within their local community. During the past seven years, they have boldly illuminated a spacious property to impart holiday blessings on thousands of wide-eyed onlookers.
Located at 3199 Collingswood Boulevard in Port Charlotte, a retirement haven along the coastline of Southwest Florida, Defreitas annually transforms his home into a dazzling Christmas wonderland. Each autumn, the 64 year-old devotes a month to precise installation of over 200,000 lights across a 3 acre lot shared with his sister.
An intricate pattern of illumination eventually takes shape across these otherwise green lawns. Welcoming visitors, the lavish display features countless light-filled holiday themes, including a life-sized nativity scene, a walk-in dollhouse, a festive cake of lights, dripping icicles, Christmas trees, a laser show, and more. Local flavor is provided through brightened palm trees and even a Florida alligator.
"It is a celebration of Christ's birthday and something I'm blessed to share with the community," said Defreitas, who is retired and garners substantial pride in his yearly mission.
From Thanksgiving to the first weekend after New Year's, the lights come on each evening from 6:00 p.m to 10:00 p.m. With the decorated property spanning an entire block on four sides, it is an ideal setting for drivers to obverse this unimpeded splendor.
An average of 150 vehicles nightly circumnavigate the Christmas mecca, though the number often exceeds several hundred on weekends and the days immediately preceding Christmas. With the pleasant journey typically beginning from the main thoroughfare of Collingswood Blvd., many even park to walk throughout the wintery setting amidst Florida's pleasant evenings.
Children especially savor the captivating sights and their enjoyment remains primary motivation for Frank Defreitas, who invites visitors to snap photos of his homemade designs.
It was not his vision, however, that commenced this Port Charlotte tradition. Rather, it was Ms. Hodge, who installed the initial lights on their shared premises seven years ago. Traveling shortly before Christmas, Defreitas returned home only to be surprised by an ornately lightened path connecting the two houses.
Hodge's decorations were well-received, both by family and surrounding neighbors, and the idea of creating a spectacle for the Charlotte County community quickly formed.
In recent years, Defreitas has replaced all bulbs with LED lights. The decision not only saved money, but gave this gracious family the ability to expand a growing supply of Christmas merriment. In fact, with the lights adding around $1000 per season to their combined electric bills, Defreitas hopes the utility company will improve electrical wiring so he can orchestrate even more.
Always eager to interact with guests, the owner described with pride how regulars return every year, and many visitors pass by every day.
"There is something sacred about it," he aptly deduced.
Asked for the most meaningful compliment from the thousands who have witnessed his lights, Defreitas told of an 80 year-old woman, who declared, "I hope it's as pretty as this when I get to heaven."
That is high praise from someone likely to have seen many of life's treasures. Yet, it is very fitting for a family that delivers an abundance of Christmas joy to the grateful town of Port Charlotte.
Jeff Briscoe is an attorney and writer from Port Charlotte, Fla., who regularly contributes to the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
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