Randy O’Grady admits he had rather Grinch-like thoughts when a few years ago, he would see kids around an old ornamental mailbox in his front yard during the Christmas holidays.
“And one day on the security cameras, we saw a couple young kids kind of poking around it and I’m gonna be honest, we were kind of thinking the worst,” the Langley City man said.
So he sent his teenagers out to assess the damage. Instead Chase and Kaitlyn found letters to Santa inside.
“They came screaming into the house about how we had to answer the letters and this is the greatest thing ever. And so we answered a few letters that year and a few parents posted it on the [social media] community page the following year, and it just went viral and all of a sudden we’re you know getting dozens of letters a day dropped in the box, and it was fun,” he said.
So the family, already known in the neighbourhood for their entertaining Halloween display, decided to ramp up the fun for the wee visitors and for themselves. Randy, his wife, Diane, and their children get a real kick out of seeing the reactions to the Christmas and Halloween displays.
The family answered the letters, if the kids provided a return address, but they did more. They delivered personalized replies and last year included small gifts.
“We had our kids dress up as elves, and you know hand deliver the letters as well, and we drove to I think 120 different addresses last year hand delivering all the little mugs and stuff that we provided.”
They tried to stop by when kids are typically home so the kids get to see the elves. The parents say the kids are delighted to receive a letter, a rarity in the digital age. At least one child took her’s to school for show-and-tell.
O’Grady, owner of Balkan Signs in downtown Langley City, admits he’s a big fan of the holiday.
“As any parent, we tend to overdo the memories of our youth, and it’s no different here. Decorating was a very large part of growing up in my mom’s home,” he said.
The tradition continued when he had a family.
“Our kids are almost out of the house now, but when they were young, we always wrote letters to Santa put out the cookies and milk, and watched him on the Santa tracker app Christmas Eve,” he added.
He’s hoping to create memories his kids will cherish and it doesn’t hurt for there to be a hearty helping of life lessons.
“We find our kids really get and learn a sense of community and charity,” O’Grady said.
Now their Christmas memories include helping make special holiday moments for other children. Kaitlyn heads off to Europe for medical school and Chase is working so Randy said this will be their last Christmas being elves.
“As such, there’s a little extra Christmas spirit in this year’s display, and we hope this creates strong, lifelong memories for the kids we interact with this year,” he said.
He said they have put up holiday displays for probably 20 years but went big for Christmas 2022, creating a walk-through display which got a lot of attention from people in the area during the month it took to set it up.
“One lady came up to us and said her young daughter coming home from school one day, running in the house and said ‘Oh my gosh, the Halloween house has like 30 Christmas trees out front’,” O’Grady said.
There’s 34 trees, all with lights, plus strands forming an overhead canopy, a gingerbread house, inflatables including a hockey playing penguin, and other delights hidden among the branches.
Nicknamed O’Grady’s Tree Farm, the display is at 20886 45A Ave. The display is up until Jan. 2 and can be visited during the daylight or evenings, but kids have to get their letters into the mailbox by Dec. 22 to receive a reply.
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