Christmas on Steroids: Welcome to Wally’s World

Wally Spencer

We live on a small island. Not much escapes us. But when a casual conversation with new friends at our local Starbucks turned from computer hacking to Christmas decorating, my ears pricked up.

I am, after all, a self-proclaimed “Christmas animal.”

“Have you seen the Spencer house this year? It’s incredible!” our recently-hacked friend asked.

The fact was we’d never seen the Spencer house – didn’t even know there was a Spencer house. Evidently we’d been missing something pretty spectacular.

So last night we waited for the sun to set, piled into the car, and headed north on our island’s one main road. As instructed, we turned off just past our favorite burger joint and began weaving through the sabal palms and live oaks draped with Spanish moss dangling like icicles above, heading toward the light pulsing ahead.


As we rounded the last curve, a scene from Christmas Vacation emerged. We were gobsmacked! Millions of lights twinkled from rooftops; tree trunks were bound in miles of glimmering sparks. Inflatable Santas, Snoopies, and snowmen jostled for position in canoes, helicopters, and Airstreams. We could hear live music, so we parked and headed toward the lone saxophonist jamming on “Silent Night” up ahead.

Sax Player

The home belongs to Urania and Wally Spencer, and this was their grandson. He’s been playing his sax in front of the house during December for the past nine years, entertaining the crowds of people who come from all around to see this Christmas marvel.


Although Urania was born nearby, she and Wally lived in New York for over 40 years. When they retired, they traded snow shovels up north for beach umbrellas and a life back in the south.

Snoopy & Garfield

Each year starting in August, Wally begins the long process of stringing all the lights through the trees and on the roof. Did we mention that Wally, a Word War II Veteran, is going to turn 90 this coming year? Amazing.

But the show does’t end on the outside. Wally and Urania invited us inside where the magic continues with entire rooms devoted to model trains …

Wally's Train Room

Wally's Train

Train Detail

… and the biggest Dickens Village we’ve ever seen.

Urania's Dickens Village

Urania's Dickens Village 3

Urania's Dickens Village 2

So if you’re a Christmas animal, and you’re in this neck of the woods (St. Simons Island, GA), take a trip to Wally’s World. You won’t be disappointed. And if you want to enjoy it from afar, here’s a great video some folks took of the tour from a few years ago.

No matter where you are, have a joyful holiday.

Wishing you all the best,
Terri & James



We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

74 thoughts

  1. Wally et al take the definition of “collectors’ items” to a whole new level! Love the irony of “Baby it’s Cold Outside”.. you’d think they might have the snowman sweating in a singlet 😉

    1. Too funny Amit! And the best part (that the photo can’t convey) is that the snowman was truly shivering! 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful holiday. Are you traveling or in Bali now? ~Terri

  2. Christmas on Steroids is right! Just when you think the outside decorations are over the top, you show his indoor showcase. Wow – the Spencer’s definitely take their decorating seriously. (I wonder what the utility bill looks like for December?) 🙂 – Mike

    1. Mike, I can’t imagine the utility bills! It truly is their labor of love – and gift to all who come to see it. Walking along the sidewalk was like being in Wonderland. And every room inside was totally decked out for Christmas with themed Christmas trees and singing Santas. I felt like I was a kid again. Hope that you and Florence have a wonderful holiday. 🙂 All the best, Terri

    1. Hi Carissa! We love the guy running too! And he was just one of a million tiny details the Model Train Room held. I think I could have looked at it for a week and never seen it all. I can’t imagine how many hours it must have taken to create this spectacle. ~Terri

  3. I am with Mike above. As astounding as the outside was the inside of the house is stunning! Well as a minalist it makes me a bit twitchy to even look at it. 🙂
    Wishing you both a wonderful Christmas. How lucky am I to have found you in the blogosphere? 🙂

    1. Too funny Sue – I just splurted my morning coffee when I got to “twitchy!” We’re minimalists too, so it was great to enjoy the uber-Christmas decorations at Wally’s and know that we didn’t have to dust any of it. 🙂 We hope that you and Dave have a fabulous holiday and thank our lucky stars the day we found you in the blogospere! ~Terri

      1. Terri I am going too aound terribly mushy but I got all choked up reading your comment, and not because you almost splurted your coffee. 🙂 Dave and I often say that the meeting of wonderful folks such as yourselves from around the world has been an unexpected gift that came with starting a blog.
        We too hope that you and James have a wonderful holiday season. Hugs from us both. 🙂

  4. It’s wonderful when people really follow their passion! But, I’m glad I don’t have to do the dusting inside, nor put up/take down the outside stuff.

    I liked the fellow clutching his hat as he runs for the train, also.

    1. I agree with you Yvonne – about the passion and the dusting! 🙂 Wally and his wife definitely know how to make the holiday joyful for all who visit.

      And the fellow clutching his hat enchanted us too. The amount of detail in both the Train Room and the Dickens Village just blew us away. Hope you have a wonderful holiday. ~Terri

    1. I know, Dina. It seems like there’d be very little time between taking down the lights and putting them back up. But Wally’s like a man on fire – totally infused with the holiday spirit … year-round, I’m guessing. 🙂 Hope you and your family have a fabulous holiday. ~Terri

  5. This post totally sets the childhood Christmas spirit into overdrive! I lust for a great light show and am so glad you found your island glow.

    1. Sue, I wish you’d been there! It was SO awesome. You and I could have spent hours, especially in the Dickens Village Room. The details would blow your mind. But the light show outside made me feel like a little kid again – kind of like standing under the giant Christmas tree at Biltmore. You remember the feeling? Like you, I never want to lose the wonder of the season. So good to hear from you. Love to you, Bob, Buster and Keka. ~T

    1. Thanks Carol – it definitely got us in the spirit. Like Sue above, we are fairly minimalist. As nomads, we don’t tend to acquire too much – with all of your roving I’m sure you can appreciate it. 🙂 So we’re glad that there are folks in this world like Wally and Urania who share their holiday spirit with us. Wishing you both the happiest of holidays, too! ~Terri

  6. Holy Moly, Wally and Urania. So much work. You have a lot more energy than me. All I can say is why not? Don’t want to see the electricity bill though. 🙂

    The village is probably never taken down, I imagine. Where the heck does one store it, or all those lights and Santas and decorations? I’d hate the work of taking them all down as well.

    1. They truly are an amazing couple, Tess! And they’ve kept all the original boxes for the Dickens Village. So when the season is over, they repackage all the buildings and people, then store them in cabinets in the garage! I asked Urania how she knows where everything goes next Christmas. She said they take photos, but she always makes new changes. Amazing! And Wally’s Train Room is a permanent fixture. But as for all the lights and figures outside, I don’t know where they store that. It just makes me tired thinking about all of the work! 🙂 Wishing you a wonderful holiday. ~Terri

    1. Merry Christmas Gayle!!! So glad to hear from you. Wally and Urania sure know how to get everyone in the holiday spirit. Please give our love to the family and have a wonderful Christmas with everyone. 🙂 Much Love, Terri

    1. Too funny Andrew! James said he could sense the polar ice cap melting as we stood there. 🙂 But hopefully it can withstand a few crazy days in December. I’m with you – I wouldn’t want to get the electric bill in January. Here’s wishing you and your family a very happy holiday. Where are you heading in the new year? ~Terri

      1. We haven’t made any specific plans yet, Andrew. We’re involved in a big project that’s keeping us close to home, so hopefully it will wrap up in the near future. We really enjoyed Warsaw. Have fun … and Happy New Year! ~Terri

  7. I hope Wally lives another 90 years! But really: a snowman shivering in a sweater that says “Baby it’s cold outside”? That’s like a gingerbread man wearing a gluten-free T-shirt.

    Merry Christmas, Vances!

    1. Wally is an amazing guy, Tom. And definitely the youngest 90-year-old I’ve ever met. The snowman was pretty hilarious – and it actually shook and shivered! Of course we Southerners are total wimps when it comes to cold weather. 🙂 Here’s wishing you and Louise the happiest of holidays. So when are you two heading to France? Terri

  8. This is just incredible! I can feel the Christmas Spirit just pouring through. You can’t help but be captivated. I can’t imagine what a thrill it is to see all of this in person. Thank you so much for sharing and bringing its magic to this homesick for Christmas gal!! Merry Christmas to you and yours and all!!

    1. Hi Judy! So glad that you stopped by. Wally and Urania definitely managed to put us in the Christmas spirit. Walking through the maze of all the twinkling lights made me feel like a kid again. 🙂 I hope that you have a fabulous holiday. So where are you that you’re “Christmas homesick?” ~Terri

  9. This was absolutely the best! I’m putting this on the big screen after my daughter arrives! What a wonderful project for Wally and his grandson. I loved the part about the railroad man- he must have been taken back to his youth with all that!

    What a wonderful holiday clip- It truly is A Wonderful Life!

    Thanks for another interesting and awe-inspiring year with Gallivance! You’re counted among those I just wrote about… glad to have met you all.

    Best wishes to you and yours,

    1. Jonelle, It’s wonderful to hear from you! Wally and Urania’s home is so full of joy. And the Train Room really seemed to bring out the kid in everyone. Each scene represented such a slice of life. Wally served on an aircraft carrier during WWII, and the stories he told were amazing. I could have listened to him all night.

      We have so enjoyed getting to know you better this year, and look forward to lots more in the coming year. Wishing you and your family a terrific holiday. All the best, Terri

  10. Wow! That’s dedication! How did you not hear of it sooner? I wish Wally’s world was closer to Texas. 🙂 Merry Christmas to both of you!

    1. Lynda, we keep asking ourselves how we never knew about Wally’s World sooner. I guess some things just slip through the cracks. Better late than never! 🙂 Are you back in Texas for the holidays? I remember from our Dallas days that there were some pretty cool light displays there too. Have a wonderful holiday! ~Terri

    1. I bet you’re right, Stephanie. I would imagine that his December electric bill is a major line item on their annual household budget. 🙂 Hope you have a fabulous holiday. ~Terri

  11. You are talking Peggy’s world here, Terri and James. The more decorations, the happier she is. 🙂 There are boxes of the stuff. Fortunately, very few require electricity. –Curt

    1. Curt, Terri is the Christmas decoration animal in our family as well. But since we’ve been on our minimalist kick, she’s revised here strategy to quality over quantity, and prides herself on the small size of the Xmas decorations box. Moving every couple of years also has played a role in her new MO. Happy Holidays. ~James

    1. Anita, in addition to being a Christmas animal, Wally was quite a character as well. He served aboard an aircraft carrier in WWII, and had lots of interesting tales about those days. We hope that you and Richard have a wonderful holiday as well. ~James

    1. We’re minimalists as well Joanne, and while we loved Wally’s house and spirit, it was better to see than own. In addition to all the Christmas and train stuff, you’ll notice that there’s beau coup photos on every wall. Some people just love there stuff. Stay warm and have a Happy Holiday. ~James

    1. Thanks LuAnn. The problem with seeing Wally’s house first was that all the other neighborhood light shows looked boring in comparison. We hope that you and Terry have a relaxing and fun holiday as well. ~James

    1. I suspect you’re right Marie. His wife told us that he starts the process in August! She also said that the grandchildren have started helping as well. There was a family vote that Wally shouldn’t be up on the roof – which seem reasonable for an 89 year-old. An amazing couple. It was great to meet them. Happy Holidays. ~James

    1. We were talking with Urania and she said that other relatives had traveled from near and far to lend a hand – particularly when it involved Wally getting back up on the roof! 🙂 Hope you had a great holiday. ~Terri

    1. You’re so right, Chris. We were trying to estimate how many hours/days/years must have gone into the creation of this wonderland – but we gave up. Too high to count. 🙂 Wishing you a very Happy New Year! ~Terri

    1. Wally is one amazing guy, that’s for sure. He seems to have a bottomless well of energy! Hope that you and John had a great Christmas, and wishing you a very Happy New Year. Can’t wait to see what you’re up to in 2015 – but I’m not sure you can top “penis gourds.” 🙂 ~Terri

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