No Tricks, Just Treats!: The Philbin House's Halloween Makeover Celebrates Neighborhood Fun


Journal photos by Ingrid Howard.

By Emily Williams

With the final day of October fast approaching, the setting sun gives way to festive yard lighting, inflatable creatures and all things spooky in homes and across lawns throughout the city of Birmingham.

While some settle for no decorations and some for a simple pumpkin on the front porch, there are other families who like to go the extra mile to make their homes just a bit more magical come All Hallow’s Eve.

That is definitely the case for Phil and Dawn Philbin’s home in Cahaba Heights.

Phil has his decorations on a timer, so once the sun begins to set, the home lights up.

Not immune to the growing popularity of inflatable decorations, Phil has a dancing skeleton with a pumpkin head that inflates in the evenings.

On the opposite side of the front yard, a happy-looking stuffed scarecrow sits on the Philbin’s wooden adirondack chair, resting next to a table topped with a pumpkin. 

“We stick to the ‘fun’ and not the ‘spooky,’” Dawn said.

The white pergola covering the front porch of their home is strung with a variety of festive lights and white ghosts, soaring above a selection of pumpkins resting on the stoop alongside small statues, one a fuzzy, black cat and the other a spider hoisting a pumpkin.

At night, the doorway is well lit and perfect for welcoming kids to the door to snag some candy as they are trick-or-treating.

The Philbins have lived in their house for the past 21 years, Phil said, and that’s about how long ago his penchant for Halloween decor presented itself.

“I started out with some little lights here and there,” he said. “Just a few things.”

Over the years his collection has steadily grown, but he’s paced himself.

“I try to add something new every other year, something that is different,” he said.

He hasn’t made any additions this year, but he said he’s always on the lookout.

“I try to make it a spontaneous type of thing,” he said. “I’ll see something in a home decor store somewhere or maybe find it online.”

To get the home ready for the holiday, Phil’s work usually begins on the first of October. He is in charge of decorating the outside of the home, and Dawn is in charge of adding fun little touches indoors.

“But I do give her suggestions,” Phil admitted.

Decorating the house is one of the ways Phil likes to embrace his inner child, he said.

Dressing up his daughter, Meghan, and taking her trick-or-treating was something he always loved to do, and making the house look more magical was an extension of embracing the holiday excitement.

“Phil’s holiday spirit has helped carry that over to a new generation of kids now that we have a granddaughter,” Dawn said.

Their granddaughter, Camille, is yet another reason for Phil to keep making holiday magic with his decorations.

“She’s about 19 months old now and I love that I’ve got somebody to grow up with,” Phil said.

The annual Halloween display isn’t just for family, but for all kids and kids at heart, like Phil. The Philbin yard is well-known to the neighbors, so much so that Dawn and Phil know which decorations are their neighbors’ favorites.

When the 2011 tornadoes ran through the area, it took out the tree on which Phil used to always strap his “witch crashing into a tree.”

“Some of the kids in the neighborhood would ask, ‘Where’s the witch going to hang?’” Phil said, adding that it has found a suitable home strapped to the chimney.

Dawn and Phil Philbin with their granddaughter, Camille.

More Families, More Fun

Having lived in the neighborhood since about 1997, the Philbins have seen a lot of changes in Cahaba Heights. Recent developments have revved up, bringing more restaurants, businesses and young families to the area – and young families mean plenty of trick-or-treaters.

“It’s all been for the better,” Phil said.

The Philbins are getting quite a few visitors on Halloween.

“We get big groups of two to three families who have about five or 10 to 12 kids in a group who all trick-or-treat together,” he said. “Especially on Dolly Ridge Drive, because its only one avenue in and out, so it’s really safe for most people.”

Having big groups of neighborhood families out in the streets having fun together is one of the many things that makes Halloween a community-driven holiday.

“We have a wonderful neighborhood and enjoy all the children that come to trick or treat,” Dawn said. “It is fun seeing all the families.”

It was the same for Phil during his childhood, growing up in Nebraska.

“When I was a child, I used to enjoy going out trick-or-treating on Halloween and had a great time doing it,” he said. “It was a fun time when kids could run free and not have any worries; and the parents too. You had confidence in your neighbors.”

It’s that same safe community spirit that Phil said he has found on Dolly Ridge Drive.

“Everybody looks out for one another, everybody acts decently towards each other and we take care of each other,” he said.

Though they  don’t go all-out for other holidays, decorating at the Philbin house doesn’t stop with Halloween, according to Dawn.

“After Halloween, we have turkeys that go in the yard and the Grinch and Max for Christmas,” she said.

For some folks, decorating big for Halloween is a chore. For Phil, it’s just plain fun, and his enjoyment is magnified when he sees his neighbors enjoying his work.

“I enjoy having a good time and I enjoy sharing a good time,” Phil said. “It is what makes good times that much better.”

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