Tom and Ann Wade’s first Christmas tree was made of chicken wire shaped into a cone, with pinecones hanging as ornaments.

After 53 years of marriage, the Tampa Palms residents’ tree now towers over them, covered with garland and lights and ornaments designed to fill you with the Christmas spirit, but with a modern tech-twist that plays whatever Christmas song you ask it to.

The tree is the centerpiece of one of New Tampa’s most elaborate home-decorated winter wonderlands.

“The ornaments on the tree (are my favorite),” Tom says. “There are pictures of our kids when they were small, anniversary pictures…essentially the history of our family.”

Inside the Wades’ two-story, five-bedroom home is a trip to old-time Christmas, if you’re lucky enough to be a friend or relative (or nosy reporter) and get an invitation past the gateway of outside lights and garland wrapped around two Colonial columns, seasonal music and a striking nativity scene above the door of their residence in the Cambridge subdivision. 

No laser lights and inflatable snowmen for the Wades. The look is traditional, and people still stop when passing by to snap a quick picture.

Christmas may be over as you’re reading this, but you might still able to get a look at the lavish outside decorations. But hurry, because after this year, Tom, who is now 76 years old, says he finally plans to scale back.

“I’m getting kind of old, and I don’t need to be getting up on the roof anymore,” he says, with a chuckle.

The Wades were co-founders of the Rotary Club of New Tampa (our area’s original, morning Rotary) — Ann is the current president, as well — but it is not a misnomer to also call them the first family of Tampa Palms Christmas decorations.

In 1988, Tampa Palms developer Ken Good decided to hold a home-decorating contest to celebrate the Christmas season (and market New Tampa’s growing and largest master-planned community).

It was extravagant, as a huge crowd took part in a celebratory party, with horse-drawn carriages and some of the best decorations in an area not yet called New Tampa.

The Wades were chosen the winners of that contest by a panel of judges and awarded the first place prize — a 35-inch Mitsubishi television, worth roughly $3,000 at the time (or $5,258, adjusted for inflation).

“We didn’t know there even was a prize,” Ann says. “That was a pretty big TV back then.”

The Wades have gone all out for Christmas every year since then, even sponsoring the contest in 1997 with their own money when the original fizzled out.

Their Christmas collection, inside and out, has only grown bigger since they won that first contest. Ann says she recently counted 50 boxes of Christmas decorations, and the job of prepping the house for the holidays takes them four days, mostly with Ann working inside and Tom handling the outside.

“We just love Christmas,” Tom says.

Their dining room looks as if old Saint Nick himself has been invited over for dinner. The meticulously decorated room and table settings for hosting holiday parties with their fellow churchgoers, Rotary Club members and neighborhood friends.

But mostly, they keep doing it for their family. This year, like every year, they hosted their three children — Amy, Nathan and Laura — plus their 10 grandchildren and in-laws. “There’s 18 of us,” Ann says. “It can get wild.”

As usual, Santa showed up while the family slept. Gifts were exchanged, dinner was served Christmas night, and pictures were taken.

Who knows, one of those pictures might just end up hanging from the Christmas tree next year. 

(Photos: Charmaine George)

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