Christmas display

A Christmas display from the park tour in 2020.

Verrado residents are coming together to show off their holiday spirit with a parks tour on Sunday, Dec. 5, and a Christmas open house tour on Sunday, Dec. 12, with all proceeds going to the Homeless Youth Connection.

This is the second year of the parks tour, which is a free event with donations accepted. Karen Milhous, event organizer, said the park tour came about in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was such a hit that it is returning. 

“Last year, the brakes had to go on because nobody wanted to go into people’s homes or people didn’t want to have others in their homes,” Milhous said. “So, I thought of when I was growing up where each street was decorated, and I thought it would be fun to do the parks. We had 10 parks last year that were decorated, and we raised funds for All Faith Community Services. We had upward of $7,500 last year from donations. It was a free event, but people were just so eager to be together.”

The park tour has 10 locations, each with its own theme, including “let it snow,” which will have actual snow; Fiesta Navidad, a “south of the border” approach to Christmas; Mele Kalikimaka, a Hawaiian Christmas; and “mingling under the mistletoe,” essentially a Hallmark-inspired park.

Snow will be delivered to Park Grove around noon. Victory Park will have a train ride. Founders’ Park will provide great family photo backdrops. Milhous said they will have hundreds of poinsettias there for pictures and that will be available for sale.

The open house tour, which has been a Verrado tradition since 2011, is $20 and includes nine decorated houses.

“It started 11 years ago with a group from Palm Valley Church,” she said. 

“We were discussing holiday memories and traditions. I thought it would be really fun to tour our decorated houses, and I talked them into it. I think we had six homes and we raised money that first year for a nonprofit we all knew, which was wonderful. It was so much fun. We had a blast and the people in the community loved it.”

Since then, they have featured different homes every year. Nick Hudec is a Verrado resident participating in the open house tour for the second time. He offered his home in 2012 with his previous house, and this year after moving to a new home. He said he and his wife were already big decorators, and the first year they participated in the open house tour was such a good experience that they were happy to do it again.

“It’s just that element of Christmas where you see a different side of people and the community,” Hudec said. “It’s nice to meet people, sometimes your neighbors that you just don’t have time to meet. There’s a real sense of connectivity, and it’s a cool experience.”

He said there are varying levels of how “decked out” the houses are. Some go to the extreme and some keep it classic and simple. According to Hudec, there isn’t really competition among the neighbors for who has the biggest or brightest decorations. Everyone just wants to provide a fun and welcoming experience. 

“Each year you have that one particular home that just has the ‘wow’ factor,” he said. “Some go full out in every single room with lights beyond what you can imagine, both interior and exterior, and have additional added displays. But each year it’s different, so I think that’s what keeps the interest going because you never really know what it’s going to be.”

Milhous said those who open their houses do a lot of work to put everything together. Some have their own snow machines, others transform an entire room of their house into a winter wonderland. Not only do they decorate. They have to prepare their home for guests. Hudec said people comment on more than the Christmas decorations, and it’s a little bit of a boost to have people impressed with their house.

“God bless these people because it’s a lot of work, but afterwards, every single time, without a doubt, they always say that it was so much fun and thank you for letting us do that,” Milhous said. “They’re so happy to have participated. So, I know it’s work, but it’s so worth it afterwards.”

Milhous said not only does the event bring the community together, but it has been a successful fundraising event. Over the years, Milhous said they have donated more than $30,000 to nonprofits that partner with the Verrado Giving Tree Program. This year’s funds will go to the Homeless Youth Connection, which helps provide for basic needs of homeless youth ages 13 to 21. Currently, there are over 1,000 kids in Maricopa and Coconino counties who fall into that category.

The park and home tours are independent, so people can come and go as they please and take in the views at their own pace. Day parks are best viewed from 3 to 5 p.m., the evening parks are from 5 to 8 p.m. and houses are open from 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 12. Live music will also be provided by The Collective, Gabe Sobarzo, at both events.

Wristbands can be purchased beforehand through the HOT Community Foundation, at The Vic patio on the day of or at any of the homes on the day of. A map will be provided at the parks with a barcode for donations. More information can be found on Verrado’s Annual Christmas Home Tour Facebook, facebook.com/verradohometour