Bowie celebrates holiday spirit with annual house decorating contest


A nutcracker theme is on display at the home of Jim and Ginna Galentine Dec. 8. Brendan Weissel/The Bowie Sun

Ed Murphy closed the door to his house and stepped into a yard illuminated by wise men and string lights. He strolled past Santa Claus and Rudolph the Reindeer to check on the Grinch.

He wasn’t pleased with the Grinch's posture. The tallest inflatable decoration on his lawn was leaning at the hip. Murphy retrieved a spare string, a post and wrapped the Grinch into shape.

Murphy was done decorating his house for the City of Bowie 42nd Annual Holiday House Decorating Contest, or so he thought.

As Murphy walked past a gingerbread man and ducked under a blue and red laser, his wife Holly Murphy, pulled into the driveway. Ed opened the passenger door and hopped into the car. The two took one final lap around the block, a tradition they started every time they added a new decoration to their house.

When they rounded the corner, they noticed the left side of the house looked off. “It's just so bland on that side,” they thought. Ed made one final trip to the attic to search for his last set of string lights.

Holly’s flashlight and Rudolph's nose lit up the corner of the house. With string lights in hand, Ed placed his step stool down, avoiding the wet dirt, and climbed up the stool while Holly held a tight grip to keep the stool from wobbling.

Ed strung the lights, plugged them in and now the left side was glowing red, blue, green, purple and yellow. Ed and Holly walked back to the end of the driveway, exhaled, shared a smile, and headed inside for the night.

Two days later on Dec. 6, judges would be traveling to their house at 13313 Yarland Lane to score their decorations on creativity, appearance and originality, said Matt Corley, director of special events for the city of Bowie.

For the Murphys this year is not about getting recognition for their lights. Ed has lived in Bowie since 1990 but this is the first year he is going all out to adorn his house for the holiday.

“We usually put out a Nativity scene … but this year we decided to go a step further,” he said, noting that his wife had spent several months fighting cancer and now “her prognosis is good.”

In January, Holly was diagnosed with uterine cancer and she spent March through July receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments. So to celebrate Christmas this year, Holly's parents, brother and sister are making the trip from Utah to Bowie.

Ed and Holly Murphy's House shines bright on Dec. 8. Brendan Weissel/The Bowie Sun

Before November it had been years since the Murphys had updated their collection of holiday yard decorations. On a trip to Lowe’s in November they stumbled upon a few blow-up decorations and decided to update their collection to impress Holly's family.

When they got back home they wrapped colored string lights around a tree, inflated the new blow-ups, and set out the wise men and a nativity scene.

Holly took a step back and said, “We ought to enter the contest.” They headed inside and filled out the form. Despite living together in Bowie for 21 years, Ed and Holly, 50 and 52 years old, had never entered the contest. Once they signed up, the decorating floodgates opened.

“(I) went up in the attic and found a snowman and plugged it in and he lit up and like well, let's throw him out there,” Ed said.

The Murphys continued to add signs, blow-ups, cutouts and lights, all as a surprise for Holly's family. “It just kind of turned into this real fun kind of family thing that we were doing,” he said.

Winners will be announced Dec. 18 during an awards reception at Bowie City Hall. As first-time participants, the Murphys will be eligible to win the $100 prize for the Mateik-Pitts Family Award, according to the entry form.

Ed said receiving some recognition for their hard work and countless trips to Lowe’s would be nice, but he will remember this Christmas for the valuable time he spent with his family decorating their yard.

“I have a new lease on life,” said Holly. “Going through what I went through, just puts your perspectives in a different light, and you live in the moment.”

Later this month, when all the lights are set up around Bowie, Ed and Holly will share their annual trip taking in the holiday spirit by looking at the decorated houses.

The Northridge home of Nick Newell lights up the night Dec. 8 with a yeti, Santa, Rudolf and other familiar characters. Brendan Weissel/The Bowiie Sun

Corley said he often receives more inquiries from people wanting to get the list of winners than entries into the contest. This year there are 46 entries in the competition, according to Corley’s records.

The Murphys will have competition for the first-time entry prize.

Nick Newell, 40, who lives at 7205 Quisinberry Way, has been decorating since 2018 when he and his wife purchased a 13-foot inflatable reindeer. However, this year is the first year they have gone all out and entered the contest.

Newell says their setup takes place over the course of a couple of weekends, which he estimated takes about 20 hours between him and his wife.

“I like my decorations to have a theme to be cohesive and complimentary,” said Newell.

When you round the corner onto Quisinberry Way in Northridge, you first see the snowmen theme, with one inflated snowman and four others on the ground. Then you see the island of misfit toys hanging out by the roadside.

As you move up the road to the right side of the driveway you spot the gingerbread man theme with an inflatable mug of hot cocoa, gum drop lights and of course gingerbread men.

A cup of cocoa tilts in the gingerbread section of Newell’s decorations on Dec. 8. Brendan Weissel/The Bowie Sun

“I always thought when I get older I'd love to have a house so festive that people just smile when they see it,” Newell said, “I think it really helps set the tone for the holidays when people are festive.”

Corley said the winners will be posted on the City of Bowie website after the award ceremony so families can check out the winning houses.

In addition to the first-time entry award, there is the $100 Pirmohamed Family Award for the house that uses methods to intrigue children and encourage family interaction, the Best of Bowie Award and the Bowie Spirit Award, Corley said.

Jim and Ginna Galentine of Grady’s Court have been participating in the city’s home decorating contest for about two decades and recall winning many awards over the years, they said.

“We try to do something a little bit different every year. So this year, we are doing a nutcracker theme,” Jim said of their home on Grady’s Court. 

In years past, the Galentine’s home has been decked with bells, angels, an assortment of Christmas trees and even a pickup truck. For the truck theme, Ginna said, "We called it all roads lead home to Christmas.”

Brendan Weissel is a student reporter for the University of Maryland Local News Network.

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