A whole block of South Elgin residents' holiday lights: Get a 360-degree view
Few things bring Roy Surges Sr. as much joy as watching visitors arrive in droves to admire the Christmas lights extravaganza on Juniper Lane every holiday season.
Lines of cars drive bumper to bumper down the South Elgin street, passing each house slowly so as not to miss the twinkling lights or ornate lawn displays. Kids stare in awe at large blowup snowmen or reindeer on the roof, as their families stroll through a tunnel of light arches over the sidewalks.
Some visitors will stop and thank residents for putting on the elaborate display, Surges said. Others wave through the window as they pass his home.
"It's a really good feeling, " he said. "It's the feeling that this is what it's all about."
For more than 15 years, Juniper Lane has been abuzz with holiday spirit from Thanksgiving to the New Year, said Surges, 77, who was among the residents who started the tradition.
Residents have dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus, passing out Christmas-themed toys and thousands of candy canes to passers-by.
They've collected food and donations for various charities, including the South Elgin Food Pantry and Cal's Angels, a foundation created in honor of South Elgin resident Cal Sutter who died of leukemia at age 13.
The tradition was started in the late 1990s by Surges and four of his neighbors, who had become close friends since they moved in more than two decades ago.
During one of their usual gatherings in someone's garage, the group started brainstorming ideas for creating a can't-miss holiday display, Surges said.
At first, only those five families participated, adding extra lights and lining their yards with candy canes. More houses joined in year after year until all 22 homes on the street were involved, and the block began drawing attention from throughout the area.
"You've got this camaraderie and this fellowship among each other," Surges said.
"That's what Christmas is about."
The block won South Elgin's holiday lights contest several years in a row and was recognized by the village in 2009 for putting on a "dazzling" holiday display for 10 straight years.
It was also featured in a book by Mary Edsey called "The Best Christmas Decorations in Chicagoland."
Juniper Lane's decorations and fundraising efforts aren't as elaborate this season as in years past, Surges said, largely because many of his neighbors have moved or passed away in recent years. It often takes some time to "get back in the swing of things" after significant resident turnover, he said.
But new residents have embraced the tradition, with some even topping those who lived there before them, said Surges' wife, Lorene.
"They're all on board," she said. "They all managed to do something, and one helps the other. They really came together."
At his wife's request, Roy Surges has backed off on some of his decorations, and he doesn't spend as much time outside as he did in the past.
But he still plans to dress up as Santa Claus and hand out candy canes to children passing through.
"It makes the people happy," he said.
"That's all that counts."