Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: Big cheer

He stands on the bluffs of northwestern Albuquerque like some god overseeing his work.

At night, he glows red like a frozen snapshot of flame. His hair is white, his boots black.

He is inflatable, indefatigable.

He is a 12-foot Santa Claus.

“If there was a bigger one, I might have got it,” says Chris Charrlin, the man behind the giant Claus in the back yard of his family’s Paradise Hills home.

There’s something about Christmas that brings out the best, the brightest, the biggest in people. Across the city, lights and displays have sprung up. But some people take it a little further.

“It’s my way . . . of reaching out and wishing people holiday cheer,” Charrlin says.

And reach the inflatable Santa does. Hundreds of people driving along Paradise Boulevard Northwest below have a clear view of the man in red’s cheerful face as they head west from Golf Course Road.

In the right breeze, Santa’s raised right mitt sways as if waving. He’s positioned for the benefit of those beneath him; the view from the Charrlin family living room is not quite as eye-catching.

“I know it’s not very Christmasy of me to say, but when he put it up, I said, `Are you telling me I have to look at Santa’s backside for a month?’ ” jokes Gina Charrlin, Chris’ wife.

Though Chris, a father of three and a manufacturing manager at Intel, has decorated seriously for years, the oversized Santa is a new addition to his continually evolving arsenal of cheer. Decorating is a tradition he grew up with, he says, and one he wants to carry on.

“It’s a big part of just celebrating the Christmas season, kind of pointing out that it’s a special time of year and doing something a little above and beyond,” he says.

Josh Charrlin, Chris’ 17-year-old son, remembers seeing the Santa for the first time and wondering just what his father intended to do with such a behemoth. He soon found out when he was recruited to help raise the decoration. But there was a slight problem: wind.

Next-door neighbor Diane Qualle saw the battle.

“They did have quite a struggle putting Santa up, and Santa won,” she says. “My dog was going crazy.”

However, Santa rose the next day, and with a few ropes, he was secured from the wind’s pummeling.

Evidently the memories made from such experiences sit well with Josh. He says he will carry on the tradition of decorating for the holidays.

“When I have a family of my own, I just want them to experience the same experiences I’ve had living in this house and past houses and just give them all the joy I can,” he says.

Santa isn’t the only thing the Charrlin household does big; a 16-foot tree towers in the living room.

Chris Charrlin wanted to take the family out to cut down a tree, but the state park’s maximum height was 10 feet, he says. Not big enough. He bought one at a lot instead.

His SUV is part of the fun, too. A string of lights weaves through the luggage rack and – new this year – a battery-powered wreath hangs from the grille. A plug in his car’s cigarette lighter powers the lights.

“I’ll see some people point, because it does stand out,” he says. “There is not too many people that do it.”

He doesn’t think such measures are over the top, though he admits others might think so. His wife, for example, jokingly says that around the holidays, the family is known as the Griswolds by the neighborhood.

The Griswolds come from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” a 1989 film about the Christmas holiday going horribly and hilariously wrong. Watching the movie is a Charrlin family holiday season tradition.

In the movie, father and husband Clark Griswold takes his holiday decorating to awe-inspiring lengths, such as buying a tree large enough to shatter living room windows and covering his house in a coat of Christmas lights so thick that someone asks him if it’s on fire.

Josh says his father is like Clark Griswold because “he loves his family, and he goes to extremes to give them a good Christmas.”

Decorations down the line include a Santa with sleigh and reindeer to go atop his roof, Charrlin says. He thinks 2005 may be the year for it.

“I just haven’t been able to find one that I can put safely up on the roof,” he says. “If I can find something like that . . . I would do it.”

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