Menifee's Carnes 'Christmas House' Attracts Big Crowds Again

If you want to get an early start on some holiday cheer, stop by 30035 Calle Pompeii in Menifee one ...

If you want to get an early start on some holiday cheer, stop by 30035 Calle Pompeii in Menifee one night soon. You're guaranteed to be surrounded by the sights and sounds of Christmas -- and the smiles of friends and neighbors gathered there.

For the 17th year, Chris and Mary Carnes are opening their house to guests every night from now until New Year's. Utilizing virtually every square inch of the ground floor of their two-story home, as well as the front of the garage and yard, the Carnes family displays thousands of figurines, miniature Victorian villages and other brightly colored holiday decorations.

It's a tradition that has attracted thousands over the years and grows with each holiday season. Chris Carnes estimates that 14,000 people visited the house last December. On opening night Saturday night, nearly 300 people passed through their doors in the first hour.

"Just seeing everyone's faces -- that's what I remember most," said Chris Carnes, who together with his wife Mary and family members start setting up for the event the day after Halloween.

Visitors are invited to sign a guest book and bring canned food items to be donated to the Menifee Valley Community Cupboard. Last year, the Carnes collected more than 1,900 pounds of food for the charity.

The Carnes family advertises only through word of mouth and a Facebook page -- "MaryChrisMess." The word definitely is out. Past visitors have come from as far away as Russia and Korea. The house is open every night starting at 6 p.m. -- including Christmas and New Year's Day -- and as late as people show up to view it.

In addition to walking past the indoor displays and partaking of home-cooked meatballs, soup and beverages, guests linger outside to talk to Carnes family members and warm themselves by a fire pit in the driveway. Some even come in costume.

Menifee resident Kristina Hampton showed up for opening night Saturday with her daughters Aurora, 8, and 6-year-old Scarlett, who was wearing a gingerbread house as a costume.

The items displayed this year represent only about half of the family's inventory, which is stored on site throughout the year. Scenes are rotated each year, so there is always something new to see.

The elaborate display puts a strain on the Carnes' circuit breakers and adds about $400 to their electric bill, but they say it is well worth the trouble. So do those who visit the place.

A few years ago, Chris Carnes asked a neighbor to help serve drinks during one evening that was expected to be particularly busy. The man reluctantly agreed, but was a