From the Brea Downtown, travel east on Birch Street, toward Valencia, any night after the first weekend of December. From Kraemer, as you approach Starflower, you see the lights. Brake lights and left turn flashers from your side of the street and twinkling headlights patiently making their way west on Birch, as right turn flashers wink their intentions. They're all going to the same place, to see the same thing. The Christmas Lights at Eagle Hills.
One man, Bob Starbuck, decorated his home for Christmas at Eagle Hills, in 1981. His neighbor, John McQuade, with encouragement from his wife, decorated his home as well. Some of their neighbors decided to join in the festivities and a 30-year tradition was born.
BBON had the great pleasure of spending a few hours with John at his home to get the story behind the lights. Originally from York, England, John McQuade came to the States at age 17 and made his home in Placentia, before coming to Brea in 1981. A lovely man with a delightful sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye, he's known as the "ringleader", though he says there is no neighborhood committee, no meetings and no pressure. "There is no competition", he says with a slight Irish brogue. His neighbors, Don and Judy, who live across the street and have decorated their home for 27-years, seconded that saying they don't compete as neighbors and even help each other with their projects. They all agreed, while we talked, that despite the costs and hard work, it's all worth it when visitors give them a thumbs up or a "thank you" for their efforts.
Taking us through the interior of his home, we learned John starts bringing Christmas out of storage in early October and begins the painstaking task of decorating from the inside out.
A table with a Christmas Train, surrounded by all kinds of toys, is the first thing you see in the living room. When you close the door and take a few steps, you are immersed in Yuletide magic and enthralled by Santas, Snowmen, Elves, Fairies, Reindeer, stuffed animals, all-manner of whirligigs, doo-dads, moving, singing, sparkling, glittery, Christmas! We couldn't stop nudging each other and exclaiming, "Did you see this?!" in every room. Wide-eyed grown-ups behaving like wide-eyed children. It was wonderful!
And when we weren't entranced by a dancing tree or a wiggling Santa, John told us that he stores his decorations in his home, his garage (at Christmas, the Bear Cave!), and at a separate storage unit. When asked, he says he has no idea how many lights he puts on his home, because he's never counted them. John arranges all of the indoor decorations himself, including the lighting, and his son helps him with the outdoor arrangements.
Neighbors and friends add to his collection by at least one decoration every year and he still adds new finds himself, but has no "favorite" in his menagerie.
When John McQuade isn't making Christmas a little brighter in Brea, he spends his time volunteering for CHOC, so it made sense when I asked him before we left, why he does this year after year. He said two words, "the kids". Visitors who are aware of John's time with CHOC sometimes leave donations for the organization as a way of thanking him, and the neighborhood, for making their Christmas more cheerful and bright.
The Christmas Lights at Eagle Hills are on every night starting this weekend until December 31. Remember to drive carefully, watch for children (young and old), be patient and enjoy. And if you get out of your car for a stroll around the neighborhood, look for John McQuade on Primrose. You can't miss him. He's at the house with all the Christmas Lights! And you'll want to see the decorations inside.
By Kathy Cannon