It's Christmas in Menifee, and the holiday spirit is shining brightly -- if you know where to look.
In our search for the most spectacular Christmas light and decoration displays in town, we feature two locations within a couple blocks of each other. One is just south of Newport Road and the other just a block north of Newport. Both welcome visitors each night from now through the end of the year, and they're definitely worth the visit.
We start with the Carnes residence at 30035 Calle Pompeii. For 20 years, Chris and Mary Carnes have lavishly decorated their house, both inside and out, and opened it up to visitors throughout the month of December. Starting in 1991 in an Eagle Rock town house and for the last 16 years in their large two-story house in Menifee, the Carnes family has spread holiday cheer through their colorful, animated holiday displays and old-fashioned hospitality.
More than 10,000 lights adorn the outside of the house. In an elaborate outdoor showcase built into the garage entry, a miniature Victorian village and electric train entertain onlookers. But that's the only the beginning. There's much more inside.
Visitors are welcome to tour the entire ground floor of the Carnes home. They are urged to sign a guest book; are invited to leave donations of food items for the Menifee Valley Community Cupboard charity; and are offered soup, meatballs, beverages and other snacks.
The inside displays feature many more miniature villages, showcasing more than 600 Victorian-style houses the Carnes have collected over the years. There are Christmas trees, animated Santa figures and many other collectibles with a holiday theme.
"We've been collecting these things for 37 years," Mary Carnes explained. "I bought my husband a train set for our first Christmas and we've been adding things ever since."
The Carnes home has been open to the public every night starting at 6 p.m. since the first Saturday in December, and it will remain open through New Year's Day. Last year, an estimated 6,000 people visited the location. Last weekend alone, nearly 2,000 stopped by.
In the early years, the Carnes' holiday collection was shown only to friends and co-workers. But when a Los Angeles Times article featured the display after the Carnes won a national contest in 1991, the home attracted a wider audience.
"The next Saturday, I noticed a lot of people I didn't know," Chris Carnes said. "I thought they were co-workers of my wife, and she thought the same thing about me. Then we realized, 'Hey, we don't even know these people.' Right then, we decided if that many people wanted to see it, we should open it up to everyone."
Chris Carnes said he and his wife don't mind at all that visitors walk through their house every night for a month each Christmas season.
"The joy we get from sharing this, you wouldn't believe," he said. "Every hour, we'll have 20 or 30 people talk about how this brings back their childhood. Their smiles are so big, it puts dimples in people who don't have dimples."
A miniature village circled by an electric train set runs the full width of the Carnes garage, greeting visitors before they step inside.
Inside are more of the 600 collectible houses and yards of train tracks.
One display features California missions with a holiday theme.
Visitors entering the Carnes home pass by a huge Christmas tree and find decorations and greeters everywhere.
Visitors leave donations for the Menifee Valley Community Cupboard by the guest book near the front door.
Carnes Family Open House
30035 Calle Pompeii
Open every night starting at 6 p.m.
Donations of non-perishable food items for Community Cupboard are welcome
Facebook page: MaryChrisMess
Just down the street, near the intersection of Westlink Drive and Broadstone Way, we find the Shaffer family, displaying both lights and music in a delightful presentation in their front yard.
Using a special synchronization program, the Shaffers' display of 80,000 LED lights flash on and off in time with the music played on four discs. Visitors driving by can listen to the music that accompanies the light show by tuning to an FM radio station listed in front of the house.
Dwane and Joni Shaffer purchased the synchronization program and set up the display 10 years ago. It wasn't long before their neighbor across the street, Bill Eaton, bought the same program to give visitors entertainment on both sides of the street.
In addition to the flashing lights all around the exterior of the Shaffer house, a Volkswagen bus parked in front of the house is decorated in a winter theme. From an upstairs window, a lifelike Santa Claus waves to visitors. Across the street, the Eaton display includes bright red and yellow lights running all the way up a huge palm tree.
"We realized we could connect the two displays so they're timed together," said Joni Shaffer, who sits with neighbors in the front driveway next to a firepit. "That's kind of unusual, because usually neighbors compete with each other in these kinds of things.
"We love sitting out here with all the kids from the neighborhood and talking to the people who drive by. I'd like to encourage more people to participate like this. Get to know your neighbors."
The Shaffers also have a display each Halloween. By the time they take down that display, it's time to put up the Christmas display. It's usually ready shortly after Thanksgiving.
If you know of other elaborate Christmas displays in Menifee, share the location with us and our readers. The residents put a lot of work into these displays and would like to share them with everyone.
Outside the Shaffer house, lights flash to the beat of holiday tunes.
Lights flash in front of the Eaton home, even running up a tall palm tree.
The back of the Shaffers' van is adorned with lights and holiday decorations.
Joni Shaffer (right) sits with neighbors in front of her light and music display.