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Pecan Grove bedecked for holidays

December 17, 2018

A group of residents wanting to do something special for a neighbor with a sick family member started the Christmas light displays that now win recognition every year for Pecan Grove.

The tradition started in the early 1980s, according to Paula Gibson, secretary/Community Affairs, on the board of the Pecan Grove Plantation Property Owners Association, who heard the story as a member of the Pecan Grove Women’s Club board.

“Neighbors decided to do something nice for them. They decorated the whole area. They were doing it for love of street and neighborhood,” said Gibson, a four-year member of the HOA board.

She laughs after being told that people say deed restrictions are the reason for the holiday lights. “Everyone says that. I wish it were. Truly, it’s not.”

No one know for sure when the holiday lighting contest began, according to Gibson, who figures it was about 1990. Now each of the HOA board members are assigned a section each year on a rotating basis to judge the lights. Each section will have first-, second- and third-place awards. Homes also will be recognized for “Best Use of Lights Theme” and “Best in the Eyes of a Child Theme.” Judging occurs between Dec. 10-17 and winners receive yard signs as well as gift cards.

There also are two overall awards: “Neighborhood Street with Best Overall Lights” and “Neighborhood cul-e-sac with Best Overall Lights.”

Gibson drives through her section as least four times to judge houses and has some help in making her selection for “Best in the Eyes of a Child Theme” — her grandchildren who live in Pecan Grove: five girls ranging in age from 4 years old to sixth grade.

“I have a really good group to judge. I take my girls and we drive around and look at all the houses. They tell me which is the prettiest. I go over it and put a lot of thought in it.

“We just try to be very fair and very appreciative of what anyone does,” said Gibson. “Some line the driveway and sidewalk. As long as they make an effort we appreciate it.”

A new feature is owners placing arches over their driveways and decorating them with lights.

“A lot of people put music to their lights,” said Gibson who added that those homes rate highly with visitors to the subdivision. Some homeowners hire characters to bring their themes to life, ie Mickey and Minnie Mouse or the “Frozen” sisters Anna and Elsa.

After Gibson selects her winners, she visits the home, rings the doorbell and places the wooden Christmas ornament in the yard. She remembers one woman who had been trying for 11 years to win before she won.

“It’s so much fun to do. I love sharing it with everyone. We have people who literally come from all over,” said Gibson. There are those who say, she added, “When I was a kid my parents used to take me to Pecan Grove to see the lights. Now I take my kids.”

Among the regular visitors are Austin High School seniors and representatives of ProGrad, the nonprofit that plans safe graduation night activities for seniors.

Beth Hall, who has a son who’s a senior this year, said the hayride is the biggest fundraiser for Austin ProGrad. People pay in advance for Friday and Saturday night hayrides on three weekends in December that may include up to five or six trailers/wagons at one time. Each trailer can accommodate 20 people.

Hall said the rides are about 45 minutes long and include Christmas music and hot cocoa. “We try to make them as comfortable and homey as we can.

“It’s amazing we pull it off every year and it’s all done by volunteers,” said Hall.

Both Hall and Gibson mention the “ho, ho” display on Plantation Drive with snowmen, talking Santas and music that just plays and plays.

“People come from everywhere to see that one house,” said Gibson. Homes that win recognition four consecutive years are placed in the “hall of fame,” she explained. To remain in the hall of fame, the homeowners must continue to decorate their homes. The hall of fame now has 16 houses, she added.

The homeowners association adds to the festive display each year with help from members of Boy Scout Troop 1656. Gibson explained they put up more than 400 wreaths on light posts every year and then take them down after the holidays. All entrances are decorated, too.

karen.zurawski@chron.com

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