Family reenergizes longtime holiday tradition in Ramar Estates

Kevin and Angela Elliott both have wonderful childhood memories of packing in the car on winter nights and heading to Ramar Estates to drive through the neighborhood and see all the houses decorated with lights.

So, when the couple moved to a house in the Ramar neighborhood – off of state Route 72, just south of Springfield – five years ago, they knew they wanted to bring back the tradition that had meant so much to them as children.

“Decorating for Christmas is something we were big on,” says Kevin, who works as a service manager at Bill Marine Auto Center in Springfield.

Then, in the summer of 2019, their Christmas dreams started turning to reality when they saw someone post the original Ramar lights sign up for grabs on a neighborhood connection page. Kevin reached out and asked if his family could have the sign to use in their efforts to bring back the tradition.

His uncle also had a Santa suit Kevin was able to use, and another relative gave Angela a Mrs. Claus cape.

“We just wanted to get it to be a bigger part of the community again,” Kevin says. So, with costumes and some lights, the couple reached out on social media and kicked off their efforts to reignite the neighborhood’s Christmas spirit.

Then, as 2020 hit with the COVID-19 pandemic causing so many people to stay home and stay separate, the couple felt it was more important than ever to help bring a sense of joy to the season.

“It means a lot because I know personally, COVID has affected us. We come from close knit families and not being able to see them on a normal basis is hard,” Angela says. “COVID has stolen some of those special moments, so it’s important to us to create something special – that’s why we put our Christmas decorations out earlier this year, to bring light and joy to people.”

That tradition of light and joy started decades ago with former Ramar Estates resident Barbara Snook and her family. Snook says it was between the late 70s and early 80s that that light display she started in the neighborhood really took off.

It was on a business trip to New Mexico that Snook first got the idea to create a neighborhood light display, after she saw a  residential neighborhood that had lined their streets with handmade luminaria.

The next year, she says, she told her husband they’d need to start saving their milk jugs to create the same look in their neighborhood.

Snook lived on Rhonda Court and says that the next Christmas Eve, her family loaded her husband’s pickup truck with the sand- and candle-filled jugs and lit them along their street.

“They were so pretty,” she recalls. “The neighbors kept coming around and asked why we didn’t tell them we were doing it because they wanted to be a part of it.”

Those candle-lit milk jugs were just the beginning of what quickly grew into a tradition drawing families from near and far to visit Ramar Estates at Christmas time.

Snook’s husband George, a retired electrician, soon created electric luminaria to line all the neighborhood streets, replacing the sometimes-tipsy milk jugs.

“Within a few years, you’d look down the streets in Ramar, and it looked like an airport – like the planes were ready to come in and land,” Snook laughed.

In the 80s and 90s, almost every house in the neighborhood was decorated with Christmas lights, and cars would sit in hour-long lines to slowly roll through each court and cul-de-sac to see all the décor.

“It got to be the place to go if you wanted to see Christmas lights,” Snook says. “The houses were beautiful, and of course the luminaries on the street, and it was just great.”

Some years, a South Vienna business – Skelton Carriage Service – even offered to bring out horse-drawn carriages to give visitors free rides through the neighborhood, Snook says.

Other times, tour buses that had first visited the nearby Clifton Mill light display would make a pass through Ramar Estates. Snook says they’d call her on their way, she’d meet them at the community’s entrance, and she’d hop aboard the bus to tell about the history of the annual display while the bus toured the neighborhood.

Snook’s neighbor across the street eventually decided what was missing from the neighborhood display was a Santa Claus.

“So, he got a Santa suit, and on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, he would be on the roof of his two-story house,” she says. “He made a platform to stand on and added spotlights so the kids could see him.”

The neighbor even rigged a system where a baby monitor was hidden in the mailbox, so he could communicate back and forth with the kids driving by.

That rooftop Santa tradition is one that Kevin was happy to be able to bring back. On their rooftop, Kevin dances and waves to passing cars, while Angela and their reindeer-dressed kids pass out candy canes – something the family has put on hold for now, until the community is safely past the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, more houses within Ramar Estates have added light. Though the house lights will be lit every night until at least Christmas, rooftop Ramar Santa can be seen from 7 to 9 p.m. every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, in December, and he’ll also make a special appearance Dec. 23.

Families can catch Kevin as on the rooftop as Ramar Santa on the Elliott’s home, 222 Marbella Ave. The original Ramar light display sign can be seen by their mailbox with updates to list the Ramar Lights Facebook page, where visitors can follow along to get updates for this year and future years.

“Some families can’t afford to take their kids to Clifton Mill or the zoo or Santa at the mall, so we want to offer them this,” Angela says.

“We’re just trying to be a bigger part of the community again. It’s about spreading good will and doing something positive by volunteering your time to make someone else happy,” Kevin added.

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.

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