Even the Grinch would have a hard time stealing Christmas from the 200 block of East Juniper Avenue in Sterling Park.

If he managed somehow to make off with the giant train that takes up the entire front yard at James and Beverly Mullins's house, he would still have to pilfer the reindeer and sleigh from the roof of Maurice Painter's house. But first, he would have to get by the nearly life-size army of wooden soldiers at Charles Meyers's house.

By then, he would surely be too exhausted to continue down the rest of the block, where every well-kept rambler or split-level house is adorned with at least some lights and wreaths, and usually much more.

For the last five years, the neighbors on this block of East Juniper have been engaged in a friendly holiday decoration contest. It's very simple: The more extravagantly you decorate your home and lawn, the better your chances of winning. The judging is done by a local celebrity, this year newly installed Loudoun County Supervisor H. Roger Zurn Jr. (R-Sterling).

"This started out to be just for fun," said Beverly Mullins, who with her husband, James, won this year's competition. "But there's always people out here waiting for us to put the train out . . . . And it finally dawned on us, hey, for a few minutes we're making people happy. For a few minutes, they're forgetting their problems."

Besides the giant train that is the star attraction of the block, the Mullinses have a bevy of jolly elves, a creche and enough lights to illuminate the whole street. But, of course, there's no need of that.

"We jokingly call it the Las Vegas strip," neighbor Kim Munoz said.

James Mullins said he has never counted the number of people who have come by each December to see the display, but feels certain it is well into the thousands. And this is only his family's third holiday season on the block.

By all accounts, the man who started the festive fever that has infected all his neighbors is Maurice Painter. Twelve years ago, he put some lights on his roof, and he "added a little every year."

Now he has lights, the team of reindeer, a huge sign wishing onlookers a merry Christmas and happy new year, a manger scene, a gingerbread man and more. He won third place this year. Second place went to Charles Meyers, who has the wooden soldiers, some reindeer and a garage door that looks like a wrapped present.

"Maurice won first place every year until last year, but he didn't mind" not placing first, Beverly Mullins said.

"No, I didn't," Painter agreed. "I figure the more people that beat me, the more people have done something."

Besides, no one will ever take from Painter the holiday tradition he enjoys even more than decorating: playing Santa Claus.

Saturday night, neighbors and dozens of onlookers gathered outside the Mullins house for a special display. Painter was there in full regalia passing out candy canes and listening to Christmas wishes while four teenagers played carols on brass instruments. The Mullinses spent Saturday afternoon preparing for the event by touching up their decorations with a paint brush or a hammer and setting up a space in their garage for Santa to greet visitors.

Janet March, who lives a few blocks away, said the Sterling Park community looks forward each year to the East Juniper display, which usually begins the first weekend of December and goes through New Year's. "I like the train and the little figures inside the train and the camels down on the corner," she said while walking her dog Lee near the Mullins house Saturday. "They're my favorites . . . Lee likes it too."

This year, the neighbors turned the festivities into a benefit for a Sterling Park woman who needs a bone marrow transplant. For the first few days of December, they served hot chocolate to onlookers and asked for a donation. Then they learned that the woman's insurance had agreed to pay for her operation. So they gave her family the money they had raised, about $1,000, to pay "for incidentals," as James Mullins put it.

In a few days, the 200 block of East Juniper Avenue will look like any other street in Sterling Park again, but for the Mullinses and their neighbors, next December is only 11 months and four days away.

"It tickles me how people come by and say, 'You should add to this,' " Beverly Mullins said. "We still have ideas for next year. It's not done yet."