WESTBROOK – In a way, Christmas came early this year for Ray Benner.

It takes Benner about three weeks to set up all the lights, blow-up reindeer and waving Santas out in front of his Austin Street home. So this year’s warmer-than-usual weather was a welcome treat for the 59-year-old, whose house has quickly become a holiday tradition as the couple keeps adding to the collection of displays all the time.

But Benner hasn’t yet gotten everything on his list.

“Wish it would snow,” he said, waiting for carloads of kids to arrive to see Santa, who bore a strong resemblance to Ray Benner Jr.

Benner said he and his wife, Mary, started the tradition about seven years ago. With their children and grandchildren mostly grown, he said, they missed the excitement of little kids around the holidays.

So they decided to create some of that Christmas cheer on their own.

The highlight of their display is the blow-up decorations. There’s a waving Santa, reindeer, a Nativity display, giant snowglobes and even a Santa reclining in bed, presumably on some day after Christmas past, among the dozens around the house. Benner said they just add to the collection whenever they seen one they like.

The addition of visits by Santa began last year.

Benner said he likes the inflatable displays because they’re easy to set up, although taking them down takes time. Benner said he has to deflate them and take them into his garage to make sure they’re dry before bagging them up and taking them back to their summer (and spring and fall) home in a shed.

Last year, Benner dug a trench and ran power lines out into the yard to make it easier to hook up the light-up displays without yards of extension cords snaking back to the house.

Mary Benner was ill Saturday evening when Santa showed up to greet children with candy canes and small presents, but Ray Benner was on hand to greet old friends and enjoy the reaction of a 5-year-old getting onto Santa’s lap. Santa will be back the next few Saturday evenings as well, Ray Benner said.

Matt Upton brought his three sons — Ashton, 8; Ethan, 5; and Colby, 5 — to see the big man.

Christmas is a major event in his house, Matt Upton said, with Ashton’s birthday on Dec. 25 itself and Ethan’s on Dec. 14. Colby, alas, was born in August.

Jason and Christina Theriault brought their two daughters, Lilly, 6, and Jilly, 5, to see Santa for the second straight year.

Last year, Jason Theriault said, Lilly was afraid of Santa, but this year she had no qualms about letting him know about a few things she hopes to see under the tree in three weeks.

Theriault, who said he’s been friends with the Benners for years, said the display, Santa and a few small presents for the kids build a nice sense of community during the holidays.

“This is awesome,” he said, looking around at the lawn displays. “It just keeps getting bigger.”

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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