NEWTOWN, Conn. — On the front lawn of Rhonda and Chane Cullens’ home at 9 Founders Lane in Newtown sits a lit-up angel figurine alongside a series of 25 lights.
This angel pays tribute to a little girl who lived near them who lost her life in the Sandy Hook School tragedy in 2012. The lights beside the angel represent the girl's friends and teachers who also lost their lives on that fateful day.
The angel figurine and lights make up a small portion of the Cullens’ Christmas decoration extravaganza that has spread across their 1-acre property.
The decorations also include 18 lit up reindeer, a 10-foot blow-up Santa Claus, a train with animated motion and a 30-foot flagpole that’s decorated to look like a tree.
In addition, there is a red, white and blue tree decorated with American flags in honor of the people who are serving in the armed forces, including their son Chad, 23, who is a specialist in the U.S. Army.
Rhonda Cullens’ Christmas-decorating craze started in 1993 when the family -- including 26-year-old son Cody — moved to Newtown from Oregon.
“At first, I didn’t have much landscaping to put any lights on. As we started doing more landscaping, I started adding things. It was a slow growth,” she said.
Cullens gets her ideas while out shopping.
“It’s usually something I see at Costco, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, or K-Mart when I’m there shopping for other stuff, too,” she said. “I’ve also looked at some stuff online. I’ll see something I like, buy it, and then figure out where I can make room for it.”
As for the number of lights used, Cullens said, “Five years ago, I stopped counting when we went over 30,000 lights.”
When asked about cost, she joked, “We keep Home Depot, Costco and Eversource in business.”
For the past 10 years, on the first Sunday in December, the couple has a tradition of inviting Newtown residents to their home for a viewing.
“Our neighbors come to our driveway and bring cookies and hot chocolate. Then we go out into the street and sing Christmas Carols," Cullens said.
She then calls the "North Pole" on her cellphone and asks to speak to Santa.
“I tell him that we are ready for the lights to go on,” Cullens said. “Then we do a countdown from 10 and when we’re done, the lights go on.
“We get about 100 people every year,” she said. “The kids love it.”
Cullens feels strongly about the theme of her decorations.
“My theme with my decorations has always been ‘let your light shine.'
“This theme became especially meaningful after the Sandy Hook tragedy,” she said. “After this happened, there was a lot of darkness in our town and I wanted to bring some of the light back.”
Aside from the angel figurine and lights, also dedicated to the Sandy Hook tragedy is a tree with green and white lights containing 26 angel shaped ornaments -- which are the Sandy Hook Elementary School colors.
“Both my kids went to Sandy Hook School,” she said. “I lost friends and neighbors in the tragedy.”
The Cullens' Christmas lights are turned on daily from 5 to 10 p.m. through Jan. 1.