Grinches tried to upstage Santa this year, stealing a baby Jesus from a nativity scene, snatching Nemo from another Christmas display and cutting strings of lights.
For the past 25 years, residents of a street that easily could be named “Christmas Avenue” have gone to extraordinary lengths to promote the season. People drive for miles to see the displays and lights that fill the yards on East Juniper Avenue in Sterling.
Adults and children enjoy life-sized carolers, angels, stars, Santas, reindeer, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Peanuts characters and more as they walk or drive along the road. Many of the characters are homemade.
This year, one family turned off their lights in protest when thieves refused to bring Nemo back.
KRIS AND DAVID CRIBBS were angry when they first discovered Nemo missing Dec. 22. Anyone walking or driving by could see a handwritten sign, with the words, “Thanks for stealing Nemo,” and a warning there would be no lights Dec. 24 or Dec. 25 if the fish was not returned.
Someone posted a message on the Community Bulletin Board on Sterling Boulevard, asking for the return of the 2-by-3 wooden Nemo. David Cribbs described the character as a clown fish. “He had one fin smaller than the other, so he had to come home. He’s not a strong swimmer,” he explained, smiling.
The Cribbs turned their lights off Christmas Eve, but relented and turned them back on Dec. 25. “We ended up doing it, because it was Christmas. It’s a nice day,” Kris Cribbs said.
She said she was surprised anyone would snatch Jesus. “Of all of the ornaments, you don’t steal Jesus,” she said.
Tony and Juana Lampe thought someone was playing a joke when they found a ransom note in Jesus’ cradle. It asked for $10,000 in unmarked bills, and contained an address and phone number. Tony Lampe said he and his daughter bundled Monopoly money and took it to a mailbox in Herndon. It turned out the same kidnappers left similar notes in other nativity scenes, all with the same information.
Tony Lampe, a Fairfax County police officer, said the resident of the Herndon address was miffed about the incident. “I’m sure it’s a headache,” he said. “In the beginning, I thought it was funny. But it is a pain. It’s a crime, albeit petty.”
Bob and Darcy Karnei, who live across the street from the Lampes, objected to the assault on Juniper Avenue. Bob Karnei said a neighbor further down the road has lost a dwarf at least three times in former years. “It takes a low life to steal things at Christmas time, especially a baby Jesus,” he said. “There is no resale value to this stuff. It’s somebody being mean.”
His wife said the residents decorate the street “totally for the community.” Santa riding a speed boat through the front yard provided the backdrop for their “Caribbean Christmas” theme.
“We do it so people can enjoy it,” she said. “This takes the fun out of it.”
DAVID CRIBBS and several other Juniper Avenue men built a Santa’s workshop this year and took turns filling the role. The Homeowner’s Association and families donated candy canes and hot chocolate. The workshop was set up in Tim and Janet Moore’s garage, and visitors had the opportunity to enjoy the beverage and candy between Dec. 16 and Dec 23.
Cribbs said the workshop was closed Christmas eve. “Santa can’t do it. He has to get his sled. It’s a big night for him.”
A box for food donations for the needy was set up on the corner of one lawn. Girl Scouts were selected this year to judge the three best displays. Wooden plaques about the size of books are placed in front of the winners.
David and Maria Woods were among several residents who had to repair their strings of lights after vandals cut them. He said it’s a shame considering the neighborhood has been promoting the spirit of Christmas for more than two decades. He recalled when Maurice Painter first started lighting up the neighborhood soon after the Woods bought their house in 1978. “It kind of rolled down the street,” David Woods said. “It was one of those things.”
Frank Tomlinson said he also remembered the beginning. Painter invited his neighbors over. “He handed us all a bag of lights and told us to get started,” Frank Tomlinson said.
Tina Tomlinson said Painter also dressed up as Santa every year and gave out candy canes.
Painter, who now lives in Florida, would be upset about the thefts and vandalism, David Woods said. “It’s atrocious. It’s common, wanton vandalism, kids cutting wires.”
He said the misconduct was reminiscent of a Christmas three or four years ago when vandals purposely stomped on the holiday lights on East Juniper Avenue.
He said he is convinced teenagers are responsible, but Tony Lampe said he believes adults were involved in the theft of Jesus.
MARIA WOODS said parents are not living up to their responsibilities to teach their children respect. And the bad behavior puts a damper on the celebration, she said. “Whether you call it Christmas or a holiday, it is about the spirit of good will.”
Her husband said the thieves and vandals are not aware of the hard work that goes into the displays. “We do it for the pleasure and enjoyment of people who come in droves to see this,” he said.
Joe and Kristen Pappano’s wires also were cut. “It’s just a big headache,” he said.
Tomlinson said someone broke the Mrs. Claus display that he and his wife, Tina, set out each night in front of their garage. And thieves went into their garage, grabbed two coolers and stole the Budweiser and Budweiser Light on the top shelf of the refrigerator. They left the Molson Goldens, Coronas and Yuenglings.
“I couldn’t tell you when exactly, because I don’t drink that much in the wintertime,” he said, adding he noticed the theft after he offered a beer to a neighbor.
Most of the residents said they knew the expectations of lighting the street with Christmas displays when they bought their homes. The Cribbs were no exception. “Before we bought our house, we were one of the crazy people who drove up and down the street,” David Cribbs said.
Dave Woods said he probably would continue to decorate his home. “For a few imbeciles, why deprive people?” he asked.
Frank Tomlinson agreed. “We’re put out by it, but when the season starts, we’ll start again, I’m sure.”