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For the annual Newport Beach 'Ring of Lights,' it takes a village to build a village




Shirley Pepy's festive home on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, CA. Planning for her holiday light design began back in July. The theme always involves penguins.
Shirley Pepy's festive home on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, CA. Planning for her holiday light design began back in July. The theme always involves penguins.
Taylor Orci/KPCC

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When Balboa Island resident Shirley Pepy walks outside her door around the holidays, she's met with awe and gratitude from passersby. "Thank you for doing this!" remarks a woman in a furry hooded coat. Children stop and take pictures with their parents' cell phones. Eyes light up. Time stops. Nostalgia sets in. And for a moment, all is right with the world. All it takes, is an entire year of planning. 

Penguins that are definitely not sentient in any way wear whimsical elf hats and adorable toy drums.
Penguins that are definitely not sentient in any way wear whimsical elf hats and adorable toy drums.
Taylor Orci/KPCC
For over 2 decades, Pepy has decorated her home for the annual Ring of Lights competition in Newport Beach. The event, which includes dozens of homes and boats alike, draws over a million viewers a year. Pepy explains the tradition has evolved over the years. "It used to be one boat with a tree on it," Pepy explains. Although the Ring of Lights is over a century old, Pepy is co-founder of the Balboa Island Museum and is a wellspring of area lore. "Back in the day, many of the storefronts were actually used for gambling."How things have changed...

Pepy is grateful for the "Oohs" and "Ahhs" from onlookers, but admits she doesn't do it alone. "I don't come up with this," she explains. "It's just my lawn."

Despite the recent rain, Shirley Pepy's Christmas lawn display is holding up nicely, but not because the penguins are sentient in any way.
Despite the recent rain, Shirley Pepy's Christmas lawn display is holding up nicely, but not because the penguins are sentient in any way.
Taylor Orci/KPCC

"We have no idea why we do this," says Dillon Wells. He, along with his mother Deanne Lemire, father Dan Lemire, and aunt Darcy Hafner spent nearly a year drafting up and executing the lawnscape for Pepy's home. "This isn't anyone's regular job, so we don't have a workshop for it. We've got penguins coming out all over the place." In other words, there is no formal workshop to build Santa's workshop. Wells and his family have been working with Pepy for the last 5 years. "It's only been in the last year or so that we've really started to enjoy the process," he says. Later, he corrects himself as to why he and his family work so hard on this temporary installation, "One time I saw a 13 year-old boy stop his skateboard, stare, and go 'Whoa.' I mean if you can get a teenager to stop what they're doing, you know you're doing something special."