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Huntington Beach man encapsulates Christmas in his garage

Giving a glimpse of what it would be like to stand inside a snow globe, Huntington Beach local and veteran Dan Cangro invited neighbors and friends over the weekend into his garage-turned-winter-wonderland complete with digitized snowfall over an intricate miniature Christmas world display.

Cangro’s holiday displays have been an annual treat, but as he premiered this year’s design on Saturday, Dec. 3, to more than 100 guests, he informed his loyal fans of his planned retirement after 20 years.

His first display in 2002 was a trolley going through a small Christmas scene set up in his living room for his wife and two children to enjoy. Fast forward, and Cangro’s garage display has become not only a neighborhood favorite, but a way to kick start the holiday season for many who make the trip to Huntington Beach.

“No year was it ever the same,” Cangro said. “It just grew, and grew out of the living room. It started as something for my family, and now it’s something for everyone to enjoy.”

A Santa Claus projects onto the wall, his signature “Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas” echoing through the garage. On an 8-by-10-foot table, a vintage train circles several scenes featuring 300 miniature buildings, including an anywhere-America retro town, a Charles Dickens village featuring Ebenezer Scrooge, a waterfall made out of lights, a collection of vintage trailer models, ice skating rinks and, in the center, a tall snowy mountain encircled by a second train and a Santa Claus flying around in a 1950s airplane.

Born in San Diego and raised in Torrance, Cangro said he remembers the “wonderful” yearly carnivals his family attended with rides like the tilt-a-world, the tea cups and a carousel. He’s collected several smaller versions of those childhood favorites for his holiday display.

Cangro began work on this year’s display in May, and said he’s spent nearly $7,000 each year adding features and making things run. An extensive electrical wiring system brings the village to life.

A family affair, Cangro’s daughter, Denise Ruiz, worked extensively this year as his assistant, with his son, Dane, giving out treats and dressing up as a Santa to welcome everyone on the day of the unveiling.

“My father has always used his creativity to bring the Christmas holiday to life,” Dane Cangro said. “This tradition has always meant a great deal to us, as it’s his way of letting us know how much he loves his family and friends.”

Chris Travers, who has been friends with Cangro for 15 years through their classic truck club, Pickups Limited of Orange County, said his family will “definitely miss” visiting the miniature wonderland. He was there on Saturday with his wife, Christine, and his 4-year-old grandson, Isaiah, for the debut, which also featured a live Mr. and Mrs. Claus, treats and a treasure hunt.

“This year he went into a lot more detail than he ever had. He’s a true craftsman who was able to capture an entire community,” Travers said. “My grandson loved it, with his nose pressed at the edge of the table, he couldn’t look away. At eye level it almost becomes real.”

This last Christmas display also included two symbolic miniatures:  A Mr. and  Mrs. Claus representing Cangro’s friends, Tony Arnold and Sherry Turner.  The two perform every year for kids all over Southern California as Saint Nick and his wife, and were thrilled, they said, for the last few years to be a part of what they considered a “great event for kids and adults” alike.

“The vintage trailers and camping display was really unique and touched us, as it was reminiscent of what we grew up with in my childhood into my adulthood,” Arnold said.  “The whole thing, it’s about bringing joy to the kids’ faces, the surprise and enjoyment it brings them, and that’s what this display did.

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