Ron McGill and David Gibbs are baby boomers who grew up in the '60s and their memories of Christmas Past recall twinkling displays of multicolored lights that folks appreciated just for their beauty.
Now tech-savvy homeowners can rig up do-it-yourself computerized control systems syncing to light displays that dance in time to holiday music. Nothing says Christmas like multicolored icicle lights flashing to Mannheim Steamroller, right? However, McGill and Gibbs still go old-school in their yard displays, stringing strands just for the beauty of the lights' glow against the winter night sky.
Their seasonal light shows take a toll on their electric bills, but neither would share the price tags of their holiday gifts to the community. It's simply a labor of love to them.
"Everybody wants to know what my light bill is, but I tell them that's a secret between me and Santa," says McGill.
50,000 Points of Light
For 31 years, Ron and Judy McGill covered their home, yard, fence and trees in 50,000 Christmas lights and several hundred figures/inflatables. He chuckles that, when he took a break last year, the blackout drew a barrage of questions: "Was he sick?" "Did they move?" "Did they divorce?"
So his Hixson light show is back for its 32nd year -- bigger and a 7-foot-tall-Tigger-better than ever. "It's just a joyous hobby for me. If it was a headache, I wouldn't do it," Ron says.
Address: 3801 Memphis Drive, off DuPont Parkway in Hixson
The display: McGill estimates 50,000 lights outline the house windows and doors, cover the roof and front fence and fill trees. There are more than 900 pieces in the yard, which include five trains and their tracks, inflatables, Mickey Mouse, The Grinch and Santa in a hot-air balloon. New this year: Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Tigger.
Why this tradition: "It was a childhood dream of mine to do this. We started out with a couple of snowmen, a Santa Claus and 1,500 lights across the front of the house. Little did I know that one day this thing would be as big and fantastic as it is. When people ask why I do it, I tell them that when you see kids come by and the expressions on their faces, it's just a blessing."
Lights up: The McGills start setting up at the end of September. Ron says his neighbor, Bob Gary, helped him on weekends -- a favor he's done for the McGills for about 15 years. McGill tradition is to flip the switch on the light show on Thanksgiving night, and Ron says there is always a crowd waiting on the street for each year's display.
Show hours: Nightly at 6 p.m.; trains run Fridays through Sundays only.
Deer in the Headlights
David and Carol Gibbs started with two white-wire deer when they began putting out lighted yard decorations in 1970. Now there's a whole herd -- more than three dozen -- roaming the front and back yards of their Tyner home. They wander in and out of other lit pieces such as snowmen, snowflakes and Christmas trees.
The glow from the deer's white lights can be seen a quarter-mile from the Gibbs' home, but neighbors don't complain. In fact, they fawn over the deer -- so much so that it was by neighbors' request that the couple extended the herd from their front yard into the back yard so families all around could enjoy the show.
Address: 2139 Suncrest Lane, Tyner community
The display: The front yard's 43 lit pieces include 28 wire reindeer (some that move), four snowmen, one dog, two tall trees and eight small trees. Twenty more lit pieces (about half of them deer) fill the back yard. Each piece's individual cord is connected to an extension cord, which links to connector boxes that plug into house outlets. Each year, the retired educators buy more reindeer or Christmas yard art at after-Christmas sales to add to the display.
Why this tradition: "We loved to look at Christmas lights when we were little and decided to carry that tradition over to our house after we married," says Carol.
Power shortage: For several years, the Gibbses had more cords than outlets, so they ran extension cords to electrical outlets at their neighbor's home, Judy Pease. "Five years ago, we had an electrician come out and put in additional outlets on the outside of our home so we didn't have to use the neighbor's," says David.
Lights up: David starts positioning deer in October, but won't light up the display until the night after Thanksgiving. "Thanksgiving is important and we don't want that holiday to be left out," he explains.
Show hours: Not nightly, just by request. Because their home is on a narrow cul de sac not conducive to heavy traffic, the Gibbses light up the herd only for their personal enjoyment, church or family gatherings or at the request of neighbors.
Contact Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.