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Residents help boost holiday spirit with brightly decorated homes

By Staff | Dec 24, 2010

With the presents wrapped and the Christmas feast planned, residents looking to partake in more holiday traditions can do so by simply hopping in the car.
Checking out the decorated homes in town and donating to a local charity typically are two customs that do not appear to go hand-in-hand, but a few Cape Coral residents have found a way to enable others to do both, at once.
Neil and Stella Monkman have been lighting up their home, and the faces of local families in need of holiday gifts, since 2008. Using a computer program and hundreds of thousands of colored lights, the couple creates eye-catching shows synchronized to a mix of songs that are available via a radio station.
The couple computerized the show in 2007.
“Christmas is about giving and making other people happy, and that’s the bottom line,” Neil Monkman said.
The station, available within about 800 feet of the home, is 90.5 FM.
“I guess we’re just big kids at heart,” Stella Monkman said with a laugh.
Called the Planet Monkman Christmas Light Show, the display changes every year and the number of lights jumps. In 2009, the couple used 105,670 lights in the show. This year, the Monkmans incorporated 115,831 of the twinklers.
“We’ve always put lights up,” Neil Monkman said.
The home, at 908 S.W. Fourth Ave., is hooked up for an hour-long show this year that consists of about 14 songs. The first piece, Celine Dion’s “God Bless America,” is a salute to U.S. troops. There also are songs ranging from jazz to country, from Spice Girls to Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.
“They’re not all Christmas songs,” he said.
Those who stop by to enjoy the display can leave a monetary donation. The donations go to the Christmas For Kids program, which takes wish lists from local children to ensure that they have a happy holiday. The Monkmans were able to help eight families and 29 children this year because of donations.
“They really appreciate it,” Stella Monkman said of the families. “Everybody knows everybody’s going through a hard time.”
Planning each display takes nearly a year. By February and on through May, Neil Monkman is creating new sequences on the computer for the show. The two usually spend the next couple months building new pieces for the display, then check their inventory and look for bad bulbs in the following months.
Once October rolls around, the Monkmans are putting it all together.
Though he does not typically spend all year on his home, Gerard Tricarico puts just as much thought into how his display will look and what it says — almost as if he is trying to take Christmas decorating to an artistic level.
Located at 1147 S.E. 29th St., the home incorporates speciality frosted white lights and gold twinklers for a regal feel, while the three wise men and other lawn ornaments point toward the open garage — the centerpiece of it all. Inside, a recreated living room scene at Christmas, down to the details.
“It was something I enjoyed doing, even as a youngster,” Tricarico said.
Decorating the home for Christmas was a tradition with his father. In 1990, when animated holiday figures began popping up on the scene, Tricarico came up with a way for others to enjoy the inside props, without ever going inside.
Constructing a scene within the garage — he now has three scenes that he rotates between and alters each year — Tricarico creates holiday moments that warm the heart and encourage visitors to take a closer look. Get close enough and you might just smell Christmas this year — plug-in air fresheners.
Flames flicker within a fireplace and a snowman peeks in the window as snow falls down. As the Christmas tree blinks with colored lights and holiday music plays overhead, more than a dozen animated figures appear to celebrate the holidays, while visitors are welcome to step into the display and take photos.
“It should be about people enjoying the holidays,” Tricarico said.
“There’s a difference in attitude during Christmas time,” he added.
That holiday spirit is what sparked an idea five years ago for Tricarico to start collection monetary donations and donations of canned goods for the Cape Coral Caring Center. He picked the organization because he had worked with the center as a city employee and knew its accomplishments locally.
“That place will even help people pay a bill,” he said.
Asked about the reaction from visitors, he said they love the details.
“A lot of them say they appreciate the work and recognize the time put in,” Tricarico said.
Beginning in September or October, he picks from among about 30 animated figures for the garage display. In terms of lights, he is using between 13,000 and 14,000 twinklers this year. Though the pieces come together late in the year, Tricarico noted that the plans for the display start way earlier.
“This is something you’re thinking about now for next year,” he laughed.
Tricarico runs his Christmas display from about 6:30 p.m. -10 p.m. on the weekdays and from about 6:30 p.m.-11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
The Planet Monkman Christmas Light Show opens after Thanksgiving and runs from 6-10 p.m. seven days a week, weather permitting, until Dec. 31.
To prevent traffic jams, visitors are asked to enter from a certain street.
For directions and more information, visit: www.xmas.planetmonkman.com.