After a six year absence, Santa and his reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Pooh Bear, Miss Piggy, E.T., Barney, Batman, Garfield, Bart Simpson, Fred Flintstone and many other characters that once adorned the front lawn of the John Bonfadini house have returned, much to the delight of hundreds of onlookers.
The display at 7500 Forrester Lane in the Manassas area had been a “must see” for Manassas residents for 30 years, before a family health situation caused Bonfadini to keep the display in his back shed for six years.
This year, it took him more than a week to get all 70 pieces in place, but as his son John B., who lives next door, said, “It’s now Christmas again.”
About three-fourths of the pieces move, creating a dazzling display.
The display has come a long way since Bonfadini first saw a pattern in Popular Mechanic magazine for a plywood Santa and reindeer pulling him up to the chimney. It was his initial venture, but certainly not his last.
Through the years, the display continued to grow and grow.
Bonfadini worked hours in his garage, adding new characters each year until he covered all the free space he had on his lawn.
Most of the characters’ movable parts, including the many pulleys and gears, were built of spare parts from wash machines, lawn mowers and garden cultivators.
Even the plywood that formed the characters was made from recycled lumber. One even had a piece of plywood from a sign from Bonfadini’s unsuccessful run in 1982 for the 50th district House of Delegates seat.
Bonfadini said the reason for his deciding to put the display back up came after receiving many requests to do it.
“No matter where I went, the question was always asked: ‘When are you going to put it out again?’ ” he said.
“I decided that it was time again … and the response has been overwhelming. People have even left gifts on my front porch with a thank you note. I also have three grandchildren who have never seen the display and I wanted to do if for them,” he said.
Bonfadini, a former teacher, said he gets the ideas for his characters by looking through children’s coloring books and uses whatever material – such as medal, plastic and plywood – he can find to build a new character.
He said most of the parts of this display required very little repair work despite being in the shed for such a long time.
“I had to replace a few motors and do some touch up painting, but that’s about all. My biggest problem was that the bushes in front of the house had grown so much I had to do some rearranging of some of the pieces,” he said.
It takes 25 flood lights to brighten up the display, costing him about $300 extra on his electricity bill. In the past he has also played the role of Santa Claus and passed out candy canes to the visiting tots. Music is also piped in.
There is a mail box in the display and one year he received a letter from a little girl who was upset because her friends said there was no Santa Claus.
Bonfadini, 67, replied to her much in the same way as the famous “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” which has become a Christmas classic.
He said in spite of the long hours building the display, putting it up and tearing it down, it’s worth all the trouble.
“To see the pleasure it brings to so many people, makes it all worth while,” he said.
Bonfadini said rain and snow don’t hurt the display, but ice “getting in the gears, can cause a problem.” He keeps a watchful eye over it the entire time it is out.
He cautions people not to get too close to the display because of so many moving parts.
The display will be on exhibit through Jan. 1, and is usually running from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. weekdays and 5:30 to 11:30 p.m. on weekends.
Bonfadini estimates that he has spent a year and a half out of his life putting up and taking down the display.
“But it was well worth it,” he said with a big grin.