A cross-country competition to inflate Christmas cheer invades Richland

A man in a plaid shirt with grey pants on stands next to a 12-foot-tall white and blue inflatable Yeti.
Steve Lee decided to bring holiday cheer to his neighborhood in Richland, Wash., by starting up an inflatable decorating competition with people in Madison, Wis. (Credit: Courtney Flatt, Northwest News Network)



Christmas joy has blown up in one Tri-Cities, Washington neighborhood. A giant inflatable yeti has invaded Highview Street in Richland. It’s all part of a friendly cross-country rivalry to spread the most holiday cheer.

The “silly” competition started when Richland dad and self-described “Christmas joy spreader” Steve Lee saw an article about Monroe Street in Madison, Wis. Over the past two years, that neighborhood amassed more than a dozen inflatable Santas.

“I thought that was a shameful display. I thought we could do much better, much more quickly – because why not?” Lee joked.

So, he ordered boxes of 12-foot-tall, light up, inflatable Bumbles, the bad-guy-turned-silly-Christmas-monster in the 1964 classic movie “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” No one had yet used these abominable snowmen to cheer up their neighborhood, Lee said. That’s why he went with it.

“Over the course of two days, under the cover of night and in the middle of the workday when people were at work, we dropped them on all their porches, with no instructions,” Lee said. “Then everyone sort of just figured out what was going on and it sort of spread and spread and spread.”

He got a few confused messages: Did someone deliver this to the wrong house? But, quickly,the neighborhood caught on.

“This is not my first very silly endeavor and it will not be my last,” he said. “This was definitely a litmus test also to see how down my neighborhood is with shenanigans and from the looks of it, they’re about 90% down.”

In Wisconsin, Evan Jonovic-Heath said the Santa explosion started last year. A group of neighbors wanted to do something like Candy Cane Lane and the idea of matching inflatables popped up.

“Ironically enough, I find inflatables incredibly tacky. I’m not a fan of them,” he said. “However, when you have a ton of them together, they all of a sudden take on a different feeling altogether. So I’m less bothered by them and find them delightfully cheery and tacky at the same time.”

This year, Jonovic-Heath had a goal of growing his delightfully cheery set of Santas from five houses to 10. Boy, did his festive feat surpass that goal. As of the Thursday before Christmas, he said he believes 35 Santas have sprung up on Monroe Street in Madison – landing the mile-long stretch on news sites, TikTok and Reddit.

Every night, he goes on Santa walks around his neighborhood to count how many Santas have sprouted. He said people have come from far and wide, one woman rolling down her car window to tell him (during a news interview) that he’d made Christmas magical for her granddaughter.

It’s also creating community. Jonovic-Heath said he’s met neighbors he’s never known in the six years he’s lived on the street, especially as he asks new people to join the horde.

“I sneak attacked one guy this weekend. I saw him and I was like, ‘Hey, no pressure. If you’d like to join the Santa thing, we’d love to have you,’” Jonovic-Heath said.

The man replied he wanted to but it was too late to order any.

Twelve-foot-tall inflatable Santas a placed in green yards in front of white houses.

Twelve-foot-tall inflatable Santas line Monroe Street in Madison, Wis. (Courtesy: Evan Jonovic-Heath)

“I said, ‘Don’t worry. I have an extra. I’ll be back in five minutes.’ So I was able to run and give it to him and he had no choice but to participate,” he laughed.

As for the friendly competition – it was one-sided until today when Jonovic-Heath said someone forwarded him news articles about the Richland inflatable installation.

He messaged Lee with his updated count.

“We’re still in the lead, so calm it down,” he joked. “I see that he’s been expanding and doing some other things. So I’m seeing if he’ll let me tag onto that also.”

Back in the northwest, the Bumble invasion has brought people outside, even in the chilly December weather. The first night the abominable snowmen stood sentry, waving to passersby from various yards, kids ran laps around their yards, “screaming and losing their minds,” Lee said. Now, more Bumbles pop up each day, he said.

“It’s nice to draw (the kids) out of their houses and show them that some silliness can happen. Some community things can happen and you can just have some unexpected magic drop on your doorstep one day,” he said.

Lee also used Chat GPT and Dall-E to write and illustrate a holiday story about the Bumble invasion. He said his kids, ages 3, 2 and 1, have asked day-in and day-out for him to read them the story.

Most of all, he said, he hopes his neighborhood will now be known for spreading holiday cheer. So far, it’s working.

“Every single day, I laugh when I walk out of my house. I see it eight times a day. I laugh every time I see it,” Lee said.

Rumors have it, a street down the road plans to install Christmas T-Rex mascots next year, and Bumble might even see a few movie friends a few streets over.

A little elf has told Leethat Madison’s Monroe Street is upping its game. Right now, the race is neck-and-neck, he said. So, is Lee competitive at all?

“Of course not. No, no. This is all just for the joy of it – but we’re going to win,” he joked.