The holidays often evoke feelings of warmth and nostalgia from being surrounded by family and reliving childhood holiday memories – memories that have been made at two local landmarks as a result of the kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity of the families at the core of Candy Cane Lane and Mr. Bill’s Wonderland. Though these communities have experienced tremendous loss this last year, their legacies will live on among family and neighbors that are committed to keeping the magic alive and bringing joy to our faces and warmth to our hearts this holiday season.
Candy Cane Lane
Candy Cane Lane is a true testament to what can happen when neighbors unite with a purpose. The Bocanegra family has had the privilege of witnessing Candy Cane Lane grow into a holiday spectacle. What started as a humble attempt to create holiday cheer for the community has grown to be a whole-neighborhood extravaganza, complete with parades and visits from Santa himself.
It all started over 40 years ago with a spark of creativity and desire to spread holiday cheer. The Boggs family began collecting milk cartons to use in place of bags for a luminaria light display. The idea was that “everyone would take a milk jug of lights, and it would be like the whole neighborhood is holding hands,” says Irene Bocanegra. Eric Barnes, son of the late Elain Barnes, who was known for his tree light displays on Donegal Lane and one of the founders of Candy Cane Lane, joined Theresa to hand out milk jug lights to the community when he was just a kid. This is perhaps the same sentiment that served as a catalyst for Candy Cane Lane becoming what it is today: kind, humble families who love to see joy on kids’ faces when they walk by and see the lights.
“Candy Cane Lane would not be what it is had it not been for all the streets participating. It’s all about being communal,” says Bocanegra. People who are new to the neighborhood or perhaps people who celebrate and acknowledge different traditions have rallied around the cause. Some houses have even taken it upon themselves to hand out cookies and hot chocolate.
“They feel cozy and they feel the love of Christmas. This is something that can’t be done in another part of town — the coziness comes from strolling the neighborhood. The beauty of it all is when the kids are walking by with their families. There is nothing else to do except relive childhood memories,” says Bocanegra. The Schanen Estates neighborhood is filled with kind, humble families who have lived in the same house on the same street for years. No one participates out of selfish ambition or name recognition. They do it because they love their neighbors near and far — and want to create joy for them at Christmastime.
Mr. Bill’s Wonderland
Hop on over to the Brighton Village neighborhood and you’ll encounter Mr. Bill’s Wonderland: a handcrafted, immersive, truly one-of-a-kind Christmas experience made with love. Bill Cox, known as “Mr. Bill,” made this wonderland his life’s work after retiring.
His dedication to creating Christmas cheer predates him purchasing the house on Hampton Lane 22 years ago. “He used to live in an apartment off of Weber Rd. Every year he would decorate, and after the first year, neighbors started asking him to decorate their place. By the time he moved out, he had decorated the entire courtyard,” says Anthony Cox, Bill’s son. His festive displays are not without years of dedication to his craft. Upon moving to the house that has become Mr. Bill’s Wonderland, the manger scene was the first display he made. He built the frame and carved all the faces out himself. “Every year, he would make new additions, and he would spend the entirety of the year working on them so they would be ready for Christmas,” Cox says.
The Wonderland is complete with lights, castles, nutcrackers and several mechanical displays such as a Ferris wheel with Snoopy and Winnie the Pooh, and Santa’s Workshop with handmade helpers and details. The sleigh in front of Santa’s Workshop has become a popular photo-op for visitors — ask any local; they probably have a photo in the sleigh and a memory of Mr. Bill talking over a hidden speaker as Santa Claus.“The neighborhood has really gotten behind it. Every year one or two more people have put lights out that haven’t before. There are lots of kids that won’t go to sleep until they get to walk by Mr. Bill’s,” Cox says.
“Our family bought the house across the street just to help with this and we’ve been there for 16 years,” he continues. “We’ve been through all of it, really — we’ve helped, every year, come up with ideas and troubleshoot issues. To see how the community reacts has been beautiful. It’s been wonderful being able to share it with the community. I have more memories than I can count.” With Bill Cox’s passing last year and the house selling, his legacy will continue to live on through his family and friends on neighboring streets. Anthony says they “will do as much as we can for as long as we can,” and plans to have most of the existing displays in front of his house across the street this year.
The community has certainly felt the loss of a cherished holiday visionary responsible for countless memories of Christmas cheer. Mr. Bill’s is so much more than lights — the attention to detail and creativity showcase his caring and thoughtful nature, and the magic and sense of wonder his displays create will continue to live on.