Where To Go To See The Holiday Lights In The Brandon Area
By Jennifer Silverstein
featuredLooking for something to do with the family during the holidays? Then take them out for a drive to the following neighborhoods for a look at some of the most extravagant Christmas lights and decorations. Bring along hot chocolate, blankets and maybe even some hay in the bed of a truck. Christmas Lane Christmas Lane is located on Wooten Rd., just off of Dover Rd., two miles north of S.R. 60 and two miles south of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.  It will be open Tuesday, December 1- Wednesday, December 30, weather permitting.Local Bloomingdale resident Patricia Tracy takes her family to Christmas Lane every year. “We have been going to Christmas Lane with the kids since 2005,” she said. “Once we found out about it, we returned every year. The kids love going.” “When our family comes to visit during Christmas they enjoy it as well, strolling around the grounds,” Tracy continued. “The children are so excited.”Full-time strawberry farmer Lane Wetherington hosts the event in his parent’s, Roy and Faye, front yard on one-and-a-half acres in Dover.  Setup for the event begins on November 1 each year, with hundreds of volunteers helping with the setup as well as with serving food and drinks during the event. Food and drinks available for purchase at Christmas Lane include hot chocolate, coffee or cold drinks and freshly popped popcorn or freshly made cotton candy.  Santa will visit nightly from Friday, December 11- Wednesday, December 23, from 7-9 p.m., and stop for a brief visit on Christmas Eve, Thursday, December 24, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on his way back to the North Pole.Other activities include a train ride for children, nightly musical entertainment beginning in mid-December, photo opportunities and a manger scene.  The star of Christmas Lane is the 35-ft. tall lighted Christmas tree. “The setting is perfect to get holiday photos for family and friends,” Tracy said. “The kids jump up in Santa’s sleigh or on the train, by the huge decorated tree or near the skating rank. Every year it is a little different.”Lane’s birthday is in November and he would ask for Christmas lights as gifts. Later, he bought a company specializing in commercial lighting which added to the display. He has also accumulated Christmas displays from various malls.Approximately 50,000 people toured the annual display last year. There is well-lit parking and off duty officers who volunteer their time to come out as security so it’s a safe place for moms to take their kids. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. Donations from Christmas Lane are given to the Children’s Home. Last year, the Wetheringtons donated $1,000. For more information on Christmas Lane, please visit www.christmaslane.org. Brandon ForestBrandon Forest is located in Seffner, off of Parsons Ave., north of Windhorst Rd., and south of Wheeler Rd.From S.R. 60, travel north up Parsons Ave., go through the Windhorst Rd. light and make a right onto Forest Cir.John Mercer lived in Brandon Forest for 20 years, from 1977-1997, and started the Facebook group “I lived in Brandon Forest and believe in Elves.” Members of the group playfully call it “The Forest.” Others in the Facebook group include Barry Argo, who now lives in Cape Canaveral, and was there at Christmas about five years ago.  “They were still doing the lights, luminaries and hayrides,” he said. “Awesome memories!”Kathy Rose Chambers, who now lives in Idaho, says she still misses the old neighborhood.  “I haven’t missed a Christmas there yet,” Mercer said.Elf projects for the neighborhood include refurbishing the Christmas ornaments and assisting the homeowners’ association in annual activities such as the Fourth of July picnic. During Christmastime, the Elves help to decorate the neighborhood, put the ornaments on light poles, place the sleigh and reindeers at the front entrance and place the various displays around the neighborhood and host a children’s party with Santa.They also ride on a fire truck with Santa, help Santa give out gifts to all the children and, on Christmas Eve, the elves dress up in full costume and direct traffic and a hay ride throughout the neighborhood. Mercer’s parents still live in Brandon Forest, and he currently lives half a mile away in Brandon. “The main reason everyone should come through is [because] on the 23rd and 24th every house places luminaries all the way around the neighborhood,” he said. “The involvement from so many houses with lights and the neighborhood decorations makes it unique to any other neighborhood in Brandon.”  Mercer continued, “We go to Barrington Oaks every year and are impressed by individual houses, but in Brandon Forest you can tell everyone has come together to make it a special place.”Argo posted this on the Facebook group’s wall: “We had a really unique neighborhood; and we probably didn’t even know it at the time.”Barrington OaksBarrington Oaks, located off of Lumsden Rd., in between Bryan and John Moore roads, consists of 51 homes, most of which decorate for the holidays. Decorations range from blowups to nativity scenes and more. Gates to the community open daily at 6 p.m. and stay open until 11 p.m., except on Christmas Eve and Christmas, where the lights stay on until 12:30 p.m.

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