Two-year-old Dax Locke has been battling a rare form of leukemia since he was born.
When doctors told his parents earlier this year that the cancer had won and Dax wouldn't make it until Dec. 25, his parents did the only thing they could think of to make their son happy: They began celebrating Christmas every day.
They just had no idea the rest of their neighborhood in Washington, Illinois -- and, eventually, communities from across the nation -- would celebrate with them.
"It was a silent way for them to offer their support," Dax's mother, Julie said. "He can't have a lot of visitors, so this was a way to give back. But the response has been tremendous."
After learning that Dax, a thin but smiling boy with the barest tufts of thin blond hair, only had four to eight weeks to live, the Lockes put up their tree. They invited their neighbors Trish and Marc Hurtgen, along with their daughter, over to help set up a train set.
"They figured that germs didn't matter anymore," said Trish, referring to Dax's susceptibility to infection. "At that point ... it was about life experiences."
The Locke's early Christmas celebration would've remained a singular display, but the Hurtgens, in a show of support, put their lights up early as well. Then, thinking the whole neighborhood might like to participate, the Hurtgens made fliers asking the neighborhood to “Decorate for Dax.”
Soon enough, nearly all of the Locke’s neighbors began putting their Christmas light up and sending Dax gifts. Washington's city hall even got into the act, throwing up its Christmas display almost a month early. Then the idea went global.
Word about the light festival spread as far as Taiwan and London via Facebook and Twitter. Families began sending “Decorating for Dax” photos and video clips to show their support.
"It's not a story about pity for a little boy," Trish said. "It's about hope. It's uplifiting and spiritual."
It's not Thanksgiving yet, but every night, Austin and Julie Locke drive Dax on a slow ride through his neighborhood to look at the beautiful Christmas displays.
"It's his favorite thing," Julie said. "He points at every light. He likes to count the houses. The other night we counted 150 houses, but Dax can only count to 10, so every one is number 10."
Afterwards, Dax’s dad carries him over to the computer to look at the messages of support coming in from around the globe.
And every day, Dax gets to open one gift that neighbors placed in a donation box outside the Locke's home. Though he's in constant pain from a tumor on his spine and can't walk, but the gifts seem to brighten his day. The largesse is almost overwhelming for the Lockes, who are brimming with gifts.
"We have more packages than we can handle now," Julie said.
The Lockes plan to donate the overflow gifts to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the charitable hospital that has covered nearly the entire cost of Dax's tests, experimental procedures and medication. The total has hit seven figures.
Visitors to decoratefordax.com are encouraged to send a donation to St. Jude's, so other children can receive the same kind treatment. Another website, www.caringbridge.com, also accepts donations. The hospital has received around $11,000 from donations made in Dax's name.
But Julie says this isn't all about just Dax.
"The main thing we all want for Christmas," Julie said, "is for people to give back."