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Holiday Displays Take Over Neighborhoods

Mon Dec 6, 4:00 AM ET  U.S. National - AP

By DON BABWIN, Associated Press Writer

GENEVA, Ill. - Greg Parcell isn't thinking about the 50,000 lights all around him, or the computer that has them blinking to the beat of "Let it Snow" on the radio.

  Instead, his mind is on what's missing as he stands in what seems the one empty spot in his front yard.

"I still have to put up the penguins around the campfire," he says.

Parcell, 47, is a toy soldier in a growing army of Christmas enthusiasts becoming more sophisticated at turning yards into blazing monuments to the holidays.

New companies are cropping up with elaborate, automated decorations and the computer equipment to coordinate them, giving anyone with a wallet the ability to create scenes similar to a theme park.

Tens of thousands of people also have found a way to skip all those hours out in the cold hanging lights — opting to hire private companies to deck their halls for anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands. One such company, Texas-based Christmas Decor, has grown from 300 customers to over 32,000 in the past eight years.

For anyone lacking ideas, the Internet has plenty to offer.

PlanetChristmas.com shows displays around the globe and gives homeowners a chance to swap ideas, see the latest gadgets and register for the next "Lights Up" symposium.

"It's taken off like wildfire and I'm quite excited about it," said Chuck Smith, the Web site's creator and a pioneer of huge computerized home displays.

Melissa Williams, an owner of Christmas Done Bright in Sevierville, Tenn., said customers, particularly middle-aged men, "want to decorate everything. They compete with their brothers and neighbors."

For Williams' company, that has translated to well over $1 million in sales of lighted wire silhouettes every year since 1999, up from $42,000 in 1992. The silhouettes range from a simple wreath to an elf that appears to be shooting presents from a cannon into a sack.

Dan Baldwin founded a company called Light-O-Rama two years ago after seeing the fuss people made about the display at his Garfield, N.J., home.

"It's pretty much addictive," Baldwin said. "We have people who say, 'Don't tell my wife. Can you not put the price in the box when you send it?'"

The price tag isn't the only enemy of holiday decoration enthusiasts — there are also the neighbors.

Throughout the country, people upset over the noise, traffic and garbage that comes when people descend on their neighborhoods to view the displays have fought back in recent years.

In Little Rock, Ark., some residents were so upset about a display with 3 million lights — said to be visible from 80 miles away — that they got the state's supreme court to agree it was a public nuisance and order it scaled back.

In Monte Sereno, Calif., a couple whose huge display attracted thousands of passers-by angered neighbors and led the city council to require a permit for any exhibit lasting longer than three days. This year, the yard holds a 10-foot Grinch, its spiny finger pointing at the house of the neighbors who initiated the complaints.

Smith, of PlanetChristmas.com, decided to give his neighbors in Franklin, Tenn., a bit of a break. After the crush of visitors forced him to hire off-duty police officers to direct traffic, he moved his show to a nearby church where there's more room.

Meanwhile, Greg Cornwell has nothing bad to say about Parcell's house across the street, but he's bracing for the crowds and the looks from people when he tries to get his car into his driveway.

"They think I'm trying to cut in line," he said.


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I told my wife that I refused to put up a bunch of lights and waste our natural resources in the name of Christmas. That's my story and I'm sticking to it! Our neighborhood has looked like Las Vegas since Thanksgiving. :P

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