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Holiday lighting joy, and competition, in Petaluma

Jan Mandler and her son Tony Mandler in front of their Clairmont Court home in Petaluma.

CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat
Published: Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 9:01 p.m.

Christmas decorating has brought out the competitive juices in a pair of Petaluma neighbors.

At the end of Clairmont Court in northeast Petaluma, the Tidwells and Mandlers face off in a friendly contest of whose yard boasts the most holiday spirit.

Jan Mandler has lived on the cul-de-sac for 38 years and always decorated, though not to the extreme.

Then eight years ago, Mark and Andrea Tidwell moved in across the court. They liked to decorate, too, but they had a son in 2009 and that sparked a boom, Mark Tidwell said.

“I'll blame it on him,” he said sheepishly, “but I truly enjoy it.”

Now that his son is old enough to appreciate the blinking lights, colorful decorations and fanciful Disney characters, Tidwell said he “probably tripled” his effort from last year.

And that hasn't gone unnoticed by the Mandlers.

“I even had T-shirts made up that say, ‘Hey, is that all you got?'” Jan Mandler said. “When we're decorating, we're hollering across the street together. He's just as goofy as us.

“We've just had a ball.”

While some folks decorate to the hilt with massive amounts of lights, for this crew it's more about creativity than numbers.

The Tidwells built a Santa's workshop and added several Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse.

“It took a good two or three days to complete. The day I finished, I didn't even let (Nathan) and my wife come home until I was done,” he said. “He just went bonkers, he was so excited.”

Nathan makes a point each night now to go outside and say goodnight to Santa and all the other characters — even those in the Mandlers' yard.

“I can't wait to see what my light bill's going to be this year, but it's totally worth it,” Tidwell said.

Jan Mandler and her son Tony have created a Christmas Candy Court, complete with a gingerbread oven.

“We've got gumdrop lights and gingerbread lights and garlands of fake candy,” Jan Mandler said.

She said the gumdrop lights draped over a cypress bush are a favorite.

“The No. 1 main thing we love is, we have covered the lawn with shimmering lights — not blinking lights, but shimmering,” she said. “If you stand there you get mesmerized. We've covered the whole lawn.”

She said she recently stepped up the decorating, too, for her two young grandchildren.

Both families said they reap tremendous joy in seeing other people marvel at their creations.

The local Elks Lodge has been bringing as many as three dozen people over almost every night in a tour bus to sightsee on their block.

“When that bus takes that corner, it's so exciting,” Jan Mandler said. “I'm 60 but I feel like I'm 12 when they come.”

The Tidwells and Mandlers greet the sightseers, often sharing eggnog and candy canes.

Even in rough economic times, the families agreed that over-decorating feels like an acceptable indulgence.

“My attitude is, it's my Christmas gift to myself,” Jan Mandler said. “When you hear the kids out there squealing, running around excited, that just puts me over the top.”

“I'm not rich and we're struggling like everyone else,” Mark Tidwell said. “But it happens once a year. And it brings so much joy to myself, my family and my neighbors. To hear people's comments when they come by, it makes it all worth it.”

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