The large statues are usually placed at Woodland Boulevard’s intersections with Howry, New York, and Wisconsin Avenues. The soldiers along with other decorations such as large wreaths will stay up until the first week in January. In an interview with the Daytona Beach News-Journal last year, Wayne Carter, executive director of the MainStreet DeLand Association, said the decorations help the ambiance of the downtown district. “It just says a lot about the town,” Carter said. “They’re (merchants) willing to stop and take the time and decorate for the season and do what they can to make downtown the kind of place you want to come walk around—you want to come shop and dine.”
Most don’t know the history behind the large toy soldier statues. They date back to the early 1990s when inmates from Tomoka Correctional Institution built them for the city. Now, they are enjoyed by all ages and are vivid traditions in the minds of many. The Nutcracker-style toy soldiers spend most of the year in World War II-era munitions bunkers at the DeLand Municipal Airport, said City Manager Michael Pleus. The bunkers are relics from when the airport served as the DeLand Naval Air Station during WWII.
Some of the statues became damaged in 2007 due to vandals — one was somehow stolen and dragged behind a car — but inmates enrolled in a work training program at Tomoka Correctional Institution worked to patch their wounds in 2009.
Many come to enjoy the soldiers as the backdrop of their holiday shopping in Downtown DeLand. It’s one of several traditions that families enjoy throughout the holiday season.
Other popular traditions include the DeLand Christmas tree lighting ceremony. On December 2 at 5:30 pm, Santa will ride in on a fire engine to light the beautiful DeLand City Hall Christmas tree. He will continue on to Pioneer Park at 6pm for photos. Also don’t forget about the DeLand Christmas parade, a tradition since 1948. Sponsored by the Rotary Clubs of DeLand, the parade will begin along Woodland Blvd. in Downtown DeLand on December 3 at 5:30 pm.
However you plan to spend the holidays on Main Street, the toy soldiers will be there to guard your way. Merry Christmas from all of us at Swann & Associates!