By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writer
LEICESTER — With the amount invested in their annual Christmas display, Scott and Denise Weikel are often told they must be rich. Well, they’re not. But, then again, their Christmas spirit, altruism, and philanthropy may make them the richest couple in town.
For roughly 27 years, the Weikels have had a Christmas display outside their 25 Waite Street home, not far from Route 9. The display started quite modestly before the couple was even married, as Denise began putting out just a few items. The Christmas collection grew as Scott would get another item or two for Denise’s birthday each November.
“We have added to it each year,” he said.
Added to it indeed. This year, the Weikels estimated their Leicester Christmas Display included about 125 blow-molded and wire-frame motion attractions, more than 200 inflatables — some as tall as 20 feet — and an estimated 50,000 lights. Additionally, this year Denise’s “Christmas Village” was housed in an outbuilding on the grounds. When the display season comes to a close, each of those inflatables is brought inside the family’s home to be blown back up and dried out prior to being put away until the next year.
New to the display in 2017 was a series of Christmas trees painted in a spectrum of colors, each eventually covered with white ornaments. Each tree was painted to represent the awareness ribbon color of various cancers, adorned with ornaments that visitors could write a name or message on in memory or support of a loved one that battled, or continues to battle, cancer.
“The trees were just Denise and I kicking around ideas for what we wanted to do,” Scott explained. “I had bought a lot of white trees after Christmas last year, really cheap. Denise said we could paint them the cancer colors, and I thought of the ornaments.”
Scott said he spent about two hours a day every day to paint the trees and each and every ornament — at least 3,000 of them.
“We had people in tears out there,” he said. “We never expected that.”
The Weikels are still considering what to do with the ornaments, but they are decidedly not going to throw them away. They’ve received many suggestions for meaningful uses for the ornaments, and are weighing the options for the greatest impact.
Scott, self-employed in the furniture refinishing industry, started the actual construction of this year’s display in October. The display officially goes on line after Thanksgiving, running through the holiday season. This year, the oft-erratic Mother Nature took its toll on the display.
“Because of the weather, we lost around seven days,” Weikel said. “We still had decent crowds, but it was down due to the weather.”
Weikel estimated those “decent crowds” at a staggering 25,000 visitors to the 25 Waite Street property. That’s more than twice Leicester’s population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and is nearly twice the seating capacity of Worcester’s DCU Center. Visitors are all ages and come from all over, some from the neighborhood and some from other states, and even from outside the United States.
“People come from all over to visit family. They come down to see it while they are here. We have had people from other countries,” Scott said. “We have a gentleman from Uruguay that posted on the [Leicester Christmas Display’s Facebook] page. He said he was here before, and was coming back. He came up to me one night this year and introduced himself.”
While stopping by and taking in the lights and display, the Weikels’ guests received approximately 7,000 candy canes this year, and on many nights they had the opportunity to meet Santa Claus, and even Mrs. Claus. The grateful guests showed their holiday spirit by donating approximately $6,000 to charity through the display.
Visitors often tried to make donations to the Weikels in appreciation of their efforts and in an attempt to subsidize the energy costs associated with the display, not to mention the acquisition of display items and the damage done to the property beneath those tens of thousands of feet. The Weikels always refused the offers, eventually relenting on the condition that any such donations went to charities and non-profits that make an impact on the community or hold a special significance for the couple. Funds benefited local kids through a Secret Santa, the McAuley-Nazareth Home for Boys, the American Cancer Society, and a number of others, often donated anonymously.
This year, volunteers ran the snack shack at Community Field, directly across the street from the Weikel home and display. Hot chocolate and various treats were sold to help raise money for the local food pantry and various other local groups and organizations.
Due to the growth and success of the display over the years, it appeared to have outgrown its home and forced the Weikels to suspend their tradition in 2016.
In 2015, the crowds had grown so large and the traffic so dense that it became clear that police details would be necessary to continue the display. It also helped Scott “know what it meant to people.”
On December 2, 2015, business mogul and TV personality Marcus Lemonis, best known as the host of CNBC’s The Profit, was in the area and heading for the airport when he saw the display and stopped by. Lemonis posted a live video on social media as he gave himself a tour of the grounds, only to be met by Scott, who gladly told him about the display. When the need for police details became apparent, the Weikels thought they had reached the end of the line.
“We are not rich, and we don’t have the money for a police detail,” Scott said.
The Leicester Christmas Display’s Facebook page, which currently has more than 10,000 followers, broke the news to its many followers.
“This is a post that literally has my wife in tears,” Scott wrote on December 12, 2015. “As of right now, tonight was the last night of the display. The neighborhood is not equipped to handle the traffic that was down here tonight.”
The post went on to thank the Leicester Police Department, and stressed that the authorities had not forced the closure. The next day, Scott was able to post that a Christmas miracle had occurred as Lemonis and others stepped up to pay for police details that would enable the side street to be safely traversed with the display ongoing.
The display was shuttered in 2016 as the Weikels thought about whether it could continue, and how to do so.
“A bunch of people were upset that we did not do it,” Weikel recalled.
Cold realities did not extinguish the passion that has grown from that modest display Denise began nearly three decades ago. Plans were made to raise the money needed to safely operate the display and minimize inconvenience to neighbors, visitors, and all impacted. This is above Scott’s obsessive orchestration of the display, which begins in earnest for the next year as soon as it comes down.
“I can honestly say there is not a day that goes by all year that I am not planning it,” Scott said. “People think we are rich, but I work seven days a week, ten-plus hours a day from January to October to afford it. We do not take vacations or go anywhere.”
This past year was its eagerly-anticipated return, with police on hand Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights throughout the season. An additional detail was on hand daily for the final week of the display. The police details were covered through fundraising efforts by both the Weikels and area businesses.
“We did fundraising all summer,” Weikel said.
Local businesses decided to chip in to help support the defrayment of police details to keep the display going. Pleasant Street Diner raised $5,500 on their own, and other sizable donations came in from Colby Fire Protection and Liberty Movers, as well as support from the Leicester Fire Department and others.