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Making Light of the Holidays : Tour promises to sparkle with good cheer--you could even say it glows.

December 14, 1996|LYNN O'DELL and JOHN O'DELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. His name is Matt. And Colleen. And Trish. He lives in Anaheim and in Lake Forest and in Tustin. Sometimes he wears a red suit, sometimes he doesn't.

But he always leaves a present: the gift of good cheer. His medium? Christmas lights. He puts them everywhere--rooftops and boats and topiary.

Sometimes he works with animated figures or plywood cutouts and recorded music. Other times, he's more subtle, setting out hundreds of luminaria--candles nestled in sand-filled paper bags that give off a comforting glow.

Where there's water, he sometimes treats onlookers to brightly decorated boats, from the yachts that ply Huntington, Newport and Dana Point harbors to the people-powered paddle boats of Yorba Linda's Eastlake community.

And he rarely works alone.

Matt Simpson and his neighbor, Harry Saehlenou, start work before Thanksgiving to deck out the three homes in their Minerva Place cul-de-sac in Anaheim with an elaborate holiday scene that uses cutouts of TV's Simpson family.

On Trish Grencik's street, Basswood Circle in Tustin, every resident gets into the act, stringing lights, wrapping street trees in colorful ribbons and setting up holiday characters.

And in Colleen Hartley's Lake Forest cul-de-sac, the neighborhood children help set up the hundreds of luminaria that will line Meadowbrook Circle on Dec. 22. Hartley says it all started two years ago when she lined the walk in front of her house with luminaria. A neighbor loved the look and proposed that the whole street do it.

That was last year. Now it's on the way to becoming a neighborhood custom.

"We have a driveway party for the neighbors. It's a warm, holiday feeling. It brings us together," Hartley said.

You can share the feeling. They'll keep the candles glowing from 5 to about 9 p.m.

But the luminaria of Meadowbrook Circle are just one of 25 stops on our fifth annual tour of the lights.

So grab your map book (our guide is keyed to the Thomas Guide map pages), pile into the car and set out to find these neighborhoods--from one end of Orange County to the other--that are giving the gift of holiday cheer this year.

North County

In Orange County's far north is Buena Park and its Los Coyotes Country Club neighborhood. Residents of Los Coyotes and Country Club drives decorate their homes in a wintry New England theme.

To get there, take Beach Boulevard to Malvern Avenue and turn right. Take Malvern to Country Club Drive, turn left and head uphill on the winding road until it connects with Los Coyotes Drive near the country club entrance. Veer left on Los Coyotes and follow it until it hits Beach Boulevard just south of Rosecrans Avenue. Hours are dusk until 10 p.m. through Dec. 25. (Map 737, J-5, and 738, A-4 and 5.)

Minerva Place in Anaheim has just three houses, but the residents--all relatives--put on a display big enough for 300. Matt Simpson, a physical education teacher, is the decorator and he spends weeks decking the halls . . . and walls, lawns, roofs and trees. He's got giant animated cutouts of the other Simpsons--Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie--on the roofs, and an illuminated creche filling one frontyard. A mechanical ski lift is new this year. A live Simpson, Matt himself, wearing a Santa suit, often greets visitors and hands out candy canes.

To get there, take Ball Road to Nutwood Avenue, go north on Nutwood to Beacon Avenue and turn left. Turn left onto Minerva Avenue when Beacon ends. Minerva Place is the first left after that. Hours are 5:30 to 10 p.m. (Map 768, E-7.)

La Palma's Dallas Drive is a pocket version of Central Orange County's Dahlia tract--a pioneer in neighborhood decorating. There are about a dozen homes on the cul-de-sac all draped in tens of thousands of lights. Recorded music serenades visitors while animated characters strut their stuff.

To get there, take the Riverside Freeway to the Orangethorpe Avenue offramp, go half a block west to Walker Avenue, turn south and drive about a mile to Houston Avenue. Turn west onto Houston; Dallas Drive is the first cross-street. Hours are dusk to 10 p.m. through Dec. 31. (Map 767, D-2.)

In Brea, the Eagle Hills neighborhood offers magnificent lighting displays. Several of the two dozen or more decorated homes are so bright that sunglasses might not be out of the question. Some nights, you might even catch a red-suited Santa there.

To get there, take the Orange Freeway to Birch Street, turn east to Flower Hill, about halfway between Kraemer Boulevard and South Valencia Avenue. Enter the tract by turning north onto Flower Hill. Hours are dusk to 10 p.m. through Dec. 25. (Map 709, F-7.)

At Yorba Linda's Eastlake Shores development, the manufactured lake makes a wonderful reflecting pool that doubles up the lights and decorations on 120 homes lining the water. You can walk or drive the streets for a view of the sophisticated decor.

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