Guide to North County’s best homegrown holiday displays
From individual homes to whole neighborhoods, we have the inside story on locals who are making Christmas bright for the community
Every Christmas season, many local homeowners put up a string or two of outdoor lights or maybe an inflatable snowman and call it a day. But a handful of spirited North County residents deck the halls so merrily that their yard displays draw visitors from as far away as Chula Vista. Here’s a look a some of North County’s most enthusiastic merry-makers, most of whom spend all year long planning their holiday displays.
Peace Family Light Show
David and Tikva Peace of Escondido are so famous for their high-tech lighting, music and multimedia holiday show that they were featured contestants last year on ABC’s “Great Christmas Light Fights” TV series.
During the holiday season, the entire front face of their home, their yard and their roof at 2675 Dundee Glen are covered with pixel grids and light bars of 36,000 red, green and blue LED lights, as well as fog machines, bubble machines, moving lights and a video screen and projector.
Last year’s show theme, starring the couple’s three sons Caleb, Seth and Levin, had the boys dancing through a nautical adventure complete with rooftop pirate ship and cannon. This year’s 11-minute show has the three boys getting sucked into a gigantic 8-by-5-foot storybook on the front lawn with some surprises and special effects.
David Peace, who works as a chief technology officer for PenChecks and Bitmo Inc., created his first light display in 2014 and the display has grown in size and technical wizardry with each year. He enjoys creating the shows for a number of reasons.
“The Christmas lights are a mix of passions. It mixes technology, art, family, performance, community and joy,” he said. “It’s difficult to explain. You work on it all year. It’s hard and it’s stressful. Then you finally put it up and you see the kids laughing and dancing. That joy makes it all worth it. Having this level of passion in a hobby and also being able to share it with your family is very special.”
The only challenge facing visitors who want to see the Peace family’s light show is that they live in a small gate-guarded community. With permission from their homeowners association, the Peace family’s show is being presented to the public this year during limited weekend hours and no visitors’ cars are allowed inside the gates. The gate code is private, so visitors are asked to park outside the gates and walk in whenever a resident happens to drive through the gates. A map can be found on their website.
Out of respect for their neighbors, the Peaces are planning to move their light show next year to a more public spot where more people can enjoy the display.
Each year, the family encouraged visitors to contribute donations to the cancer ward at Rady Children’s Hospital because David Peace had cancer as a child.
Hours: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 15, Dec. 21, 22, 24, 28 and 29. 2675 Dundee Glen, Escondido. peacefamilylights.com
When Mack and Ali Schreiber moved into their new home at 2030 Reche Road in Fallbrook 27 years ago, Mack told his wife he was going to run downtown to buy some outdoor Christmas lights. He returned with $400 of holiday merchandise.
“She asked me, ‘Do you think you got enough?’ I said, ‘Not even close. But this is a start,” said Mack Scheiber, 50.
In the more than quarter-century since, Schreiber — who’s known around Fallbrook as “Mr. Christmas” — has continued to spend at least $400 each year, gradually expanding his elaborate holiday extravaganza known as Fallbrook Lights. Because everyone who drives through the display on the couple’s U-shaped driveway gets a candy cane, Schreiber knows he gets about 18,000 visitors each year.
Bringing Fallbrook Lights to life every year requires exhaustive hours and a high price tag, but Schreiber said the emotional payback is priceless.
“I do it for all the smiling kids and their smiling parents,” he said. “The first time they come to see it, they go crazy. It’s really hard work and sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it. But the first time I turn on the lights every year, all of my complaints melt away. It’s an amazing feeling.”
This year’s display includes 80,000 incandescent lights controlled by 15 electronic consoles. The ever-moving lights are synced via Lightorama software to a score of 25 songs that can be heard via car radio on 90.5 FM. There are also 12 operating train track layouts with more than 100 buildings, six snow machines and a 38-foot flagpole draped to the ground with lights to resemble a giant Christmas tree.
New this year is Schreiber’s handmade model of Disneyland Park, circa 1987. Working every weekend over the past year, Schreiber has spent a combined 250 hours constructing the miniature theme park with chicken wire, plastic and spray foam, Legos, LED lights projectors and other materials. There’s a mini Matterhorn, Big Thunder Mountain, Main Street USA, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and even a working monorail.
From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, Schreiber keeps a tightly regimented schedule. He works full time as a tool repairman at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, so after arriving home from his 90-minute commute each weekday at 4 p.m., he spends 45 minutes setting up the trains, refilling the snow machines and fountains and checking all the circuits. Then from 5-8 p.m. weekdays and 5 to 9 p.m. weekends, he stands in his front yard greeting visitors. At the end of each night, he spends another half-hour shutting everything down.
Schreiber spends about $2,500 each holiday season to power his display, not to mention the candy canes. He does accept donations to help pay his electric bill, and this year he won first place in RE/MAX’s “Festival of Lights” competition. Visitors are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items, which will be donated to the Fallbrook Food Pantry.
“Fallbrook Lights” at 2030 Reche Road is illuminated from 5 p.m. daily through Dec. 31. Rain cancels. facebook.com/Schreiberland/
Christmas on Knob Hill
North County’s most elaborately decorated home belongs to Bill and Elaine Gilfillen of San Marcos, who are marking their 32nd year hosting “Christmas on Knob Hill.” Every year from Thanksgiving until Dec. 30, their home at 1639 Knob Hill Road is bedazzled with more than 100,000 twinkling holiday lights and more than 100 illuminated and, in many cases, animated lawn, tree and roof sculptures. More than 15,000 people visit every season.
Gilfillen, an 82-year-old retired Navy flight engineer known in the neighborhood as “Mr. Christmas,” spends all year poring through catalogs to find a handful of new items to replace the old. Then he starts the decorating process on Sept. 1. After a month of pulling items out of storage, testing light circuits and making repairs, he begins the yard decoration, which changes every year. Besides meeting with visitors virtually every night in his driveway, he also dresses up as Santa and takes wishes and hands out candy canes for the 12 days before Christmas. He hands out 2,700 to 3,000 candy canes each year.
Christmas lights hold special meaning for Gilfillen, whose Grove City, Ohio, family was so poor in the early 1940s that he and his siblings spent several years in a church-run orphanage because their mother couldn’t afford to care for them. Walking through the snow to admire the holiday décor was the one present the Gilfillen siblings could give themselves.
“I loved going around to look at the lights. I thought they were beautiful,” he said. “To me, that was Christmas.”
After the Gilfillens moved into their San Marcos home with their three children in the mid-1980s, he put up a few strings of lights that first Christmas. The display failed to impress their then-10-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and he’s been trying to wow her, and everyone else, ever since.
Hours: Weather permitting, lights are on from 5 to 9 p.m. nightly through Dec. 30. Santa arrives from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 13 through 23. 1639 Knob Hill Road, San Marcos. christmasonknobhill.com
Spence Family Holiday Light Show
For the 10th year in a row, Greg and Tiffany Spence are hosting a whirling, twirling musical extravaganza at their hilltop San Pasqual Valley home.
Spence, a 45-year-old ex-video game designer, spends months programming more than 11,000 LED lights to a short-wave 20-minute musical score that visitors can tune in on their car radio at 93.5 FM. The lights decorate the house, nine outdoor trees, giant snowflakes and a series of six arches and four light bars for a seemingly endless variety of color combinations, rhythmic patterns and sparkling effects.
Spence said from the time he was a boy growing up in Tennessee, he loved building things out of electronic components. He started his career 21 years ago in Memphis as a software designer, then transitioned into video game design in 2006 when he was hired by Sony Online Entertainment (now Daybreak Games) in San Diego. The couple now runs The Broken Token, which makes laser-cut birch plywood organizing boxes as well as collectible accessories for board games.
They started their outdoor lighting display nine years ago with a few strings of programmed lights on their former home in Escondido’s Oak Hill neighborhood. Then, when they moved to the San Pasqual Valley five years ago, they started building a much more ambitious lighting spectacular. New to this year’s display are the six light arches and the large “mega” tree at the top of the hill has twice as many lights as last year. This year’s musical score features six songs, including two new numbers, a carol by the a cappella choir Pentatonix and “Into the Unknown” from Disney’s “Frozen 2.”
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. daily through mid-January. 1817 Sunny Slope Terrace, Escondido. facebook.com/SpenceFamilyLightShow
Christmas Card Lane
Back in 1982, Rancho Penasquitos resident Alana Hastings started a community Christmas-decorating event to bring neighbors closer together. What started with 15 families on Ellingham Street nearly 40 years ago has since expanded to more than 200 homes on nearby Oviedo, Renato and Twin Trails streets.
The name comes from the oversize hand-painted Christmas Card-like plywood signs that decorate many of the lawns. Each home has its own theme that is carried through with the giant cards, lawn monuments and lights. Among this year’s most elaborately decorated homes are tributes to Disney’s “The Incredibles,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “The Lion King,” “Frozen,” “101 Dalmatians,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Finding Nemo” and “Lilo and Stitch.” There are also book-themed tributes to Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss and the Berenstain Bears. There are movie-inspired Star Wars, Marvel superhero and “My Little Dragon” displays and even a yard devoted entirely to social media platforms and emojis.
Because many visitors park their cars and stroll through the neighborhood with their children, many homeowners offer interactive activities, like crafts for kids, selfie stations, video displays, a large outdoor train set and even a popcorn and refreshment stand.
Neighbors often compete for the most elaborate and colorful displays and some families change or expand their display every year. One of the neighborhood’s most beloved traditions is that of Bertha, the bikini-clad pig. Whoever ends up with the painted wood pig on their doorstep on Dec. 23 must display it in a window of their home for the rest of the year. As a result, homeowners are constantly circulating the pig to unsuspecting neighbors’ porches that night each year.
Light hours vary by home. Christmas Card Lane is made up of a roughly four-block area bounded by Twin Trails Drive, Oviedo Street and Ellingham Street, Rancho Penasquitos. facebook.com/pages/Christmas-Card-Lane/842286412502103.
Letters to Santa
Since 2016, Christmas-lover Elizabeth Gala Bruckner and her family have been welcoming all comers to their festively decorated home at 6646 Elegant Tern Place in Carlsbad.
Their yard is jam-packed with a huge collection of blinking, flashing and inflatable holiday yard ornaments that range from Santa and his reindeer, a glittering castle, a miniature snowy village and Willie Wonka-size lollipops.
But the main attraction is Bruckner’s handmade red plywood mailbox that she puts out on her front curb every December. Visitors are invited to drop a letter in the slot to Santa, and every sender, as long as they include a return address, receives a letter in response. Over the years she has received letters from children so impoverished that they’re afraid to ask for anything at all, as well as parents asking Santa for help healing their marriage troubles. Last year, she received about 300 letters and answered every one with help from a small team of volunteers.
Bruckner, 40, grew up in a Huntington Beach apartment where money was tight, so they didn’t have many lights or decorations and sometimes couldn’t afford a Christmas tree.
“Instead, my mom would always drive us around the community to look at the Christmas light before bed, and as a child it meant so much to me,” Bruckner said. “I still remember how magical it felt to look at all the displays and now it’s my turn to gift what I can to the community.”
Eleven years ago, Bruckner, her husband, Andre, and their sons, Wolfgang and A.J., moved to a large home on a cul-de-sac in Carlsbad, where she could let her decorating imagination run wild. As part of their holiday celebration, the Bruckners host a community holiday party with Santa and crafts and snacks for children. This year’s party was held on Dec. 14.
Lights are on from 5 to 10 p.m. nightly through Christmas day. Santa’s mailbox is out every night through Jan. 1. 6646 Elegant Tern Place, Carlsbad.
A guide to North County’s best holiday displays
Here’s a roundup of some of North County’s best-decorated homes this month.
2675 Dundee Glen, Escondido — Peace Family Light Show: 35,000-light spectacular with video, fog and bubble machines. Restricted neighborhood entry and dates.
1817 Sunny Slope Terrace, Escondido — Spence Family Holiday Light Show: Music and moving light display with 30,000 LED lights.
1375 Linsay Place, Escondido — The elaborately decorated home of David and Julie Kantouth is first runner-up in RE/MAX’s countywide Holiday of Lights contest.
1639 Knob Hill Road, San Marcos — “Christmas on Knob Hill” features 100,000 lights and more than 100 lawn and roof ornaments, plus Santa Claus every night through Dec. 23.
2031 Reche Road, Fallbrook — Mack Schreiber’s long-running “Fallbrook Lights” display has 80,000 digitally controlled moving lights, five outdoor train layouts, six snow machines and a handmade model of Disneyland.
23542 Bassett Way, Ramona — “Happy Lights Ramona,” which launched in 2012, is a home with a 30,000-bulb electronically controlled light displays synchronized to Christmas music which can be heard on station 106.9FM on the car radio. Kids who leave a letter with return address in Santa’s mailbox will get a letter back. Lights are illuminated beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Oviedo Street, Ellingham Street and Twin Trails Drive — “Christmas Card Lane” features more than 200 homes decorated with movie, storybook and Disney themes and lights.
CARMEL MOUNTAIN RANCH:
Stony Gate Place —"Holiday Magic” features more than 100 homes in the Fairway Village community decorated for the holidays. Lights on 5:30 to 10 p.m. through Jan. 1.
Hickory Street, Butterwood Court and Rockrose Court — “Candy Cane Lane” has multiple elaborately decorated cul-de-sacs in close walking distance. Lights are on from 6 to 9 p.m. through Christmas Eve.
7607 Romeria Drive — “The Carlsbad Christmas House,” now in its 21st year, features a candy cane lane, three snow machines, a land of misfit toys, surfing Santa on a giant wave and Santa falling from his sleigh off the roof.
6646 Elegant Tern Place — Visitors who “post” a letter for Santa with a return address will get a return note until Jan. 1. Lights are on from 5 to 10 p.m. nightly.
1650 Quiet Hills Drive — “Christmas on Quiet Hills,” now in its ninth year, features holiday lights synchronized to 10 songs that can be heard on 87.9 FM on your car radio. Lights are on from 6 to 9 p.m. daily through Dec. 31. Rain cancels.
5279 Willow Walk Road — More than 30,000 digital lights synchronized to music are on display, 5:30 to 10 p.m. nightly through Dec. 31.
1939 Intrepid Way — Large inflatable sculptures, a Santa letters mailbox, projection lighting and more.
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