Shortly before Thanksgiving, James Halligan and Colby Witwer decided they would light up their part of Dresden Drive for Christmas.
“It’s just a friendly little competition with my buddy down the street,” Witwer said.
The two have known each another a long time. They have a lot in common. They’re both 27. They’re competitive guys. They went to high school together, attended the same college (Ole Miss) and now live on the same Brookhaven street, only about eight houses apart.
During a party at a friend’s house in November, they decided to compete to see which of them could put up the showiest outside holiday display.
“We were just sitting around and he brought it up and I said, ‘Bring it,’” Witwer said.
Their host for the party, a mutual friend named Matt Jollay, signed on as judge. Every week, Jollay checks out his buddies’ houses and grades their displays for lights, accessories, spirit, creativity and presentation. The loser buys the winner a case of beer.
Witwer’s home at 1819 Dresden is covered in red and white lights, and has an inflatable Santa on the roof. Down the street, Halligan’s place at 1873 Dresden sports lights, a front door wrapped like a Christmas present and a decorated mailbox. And, on judging night, he said proudly, his dog was dressed in a Christmas sweater. “I’m going for classy, not trashy,” he said. Should the need arise, his roommate has agreed to dress up as Santa for future judgings.
The season for holiday lights has returned. Yard decorators have collected their prized boxes of bulbs from attics or garages or the sales tables at Home Depots and are hard at work posting them on trees, on roofs, on just about anything that doesn’t move and perhaps an SUV or two that does. Some say they deck their walls to create works of beauty. Others report the glowing lights remind them of home or Christmases past. Some, it appears, do it for the beer.
Whatever their reasons, they’re busy brightening skies across Brookhaven, Buckhead, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.
“So far, everybody’s loved it,” Halligan said. “People walking down the street say they like it. Maybe we can turn Dresden into one of those holiday light streets.”
Redfield Road in Dunwoody already is one of those streets. It runs through a subdivision where residents vote each year on which home can claim the honor of putting up the most spectacular display. After driving around to check out their neighbors’ displays, residents vote on awards in categories such as the best decorated door, the most creative display or the most holiday lights. There’s also a “kids choice” prize.
Scott and Jan Mackenzie have been decorating their home at 5289 Redfield for 23 years, since the first Christmas after they moved in. They won the competition once back in the 1990s.
They’re proud to fill their bushes, trees and roof with brightly colored holiday lights – not the white lights that many of their neighbors use. “We came from Toronto, Canada, and we’ve always had colored lights,” Jan Mackenzie said. “In our neighborhood, we always had colored lights to show through the snow.”
So many lights, in fact, that they figure they have 20 to 25 extension cords snaking across the yard by the time they’re done. They had to install new circuit breakers a few years ago. “We kept blowing the fuses,” Jan Mackenzie said.
Sons Colin, 25, Ian, 23, and Alex, 22, still pitch in to put up the lights. They’ve taken over much of the rooftop installation work these days. Alex says he’s been putting up lights on the roof since he was 12.
“It’s the Christmas spirit,” Jan Mackenzie said.
“And it’s always exciting when you know people are stopping in front of your house and not somebody else’s,” Alex Mackenzie said.
Greg Talbott knows that feeling. Folks have been stopping to check out his home at 452 Glencourtney Drive in Sandy Springs for at least 26 years.
And he puts on quite a holiday show. His yard twinkles with 22,000 lights, he said, and features snowflakes, trees and a train made of lights and dozens of figures from Santas to snowmen. “We started on the front porch and it just kept growing gradually to what it is now,” the white-bearded 61-year-old said. “This is probably the biggest display in Sandy Springs.”
He figures the display adds $200 to $300 a month to his power bill. But it’s worth it, he said.
“It’s fun. All the smiles you see on the kids’ faces – and the parents, too,” he said, wearing a Santa cap as he showed a visitor his displays. “I just enjoy it. People stop and get out of their cars and walk around.”
Dan Davis also watches people stop just to wonder at the lights he’s put up. He’s property manager for a home at 4730 Harris Trail in Buckhead. He estimates that he and his crew spent a full seven days remaking the home into a winter showplace with white-lighted garlands on the fence, lights in the towering holly trees, red ribbons turning the house’s two-story columns into giant candy canes and huge white snowflakes hanging from the trees.
“It’s neat because the kids ask, ‘How do you get them up there?’” he said. Well, how does he? “I don’t want to give away the secret,” he said. He thought a moment. “Ok, well, a 60-foot boom lift.”
Peri Demestihas has no need of lifts. The 26-year-old lawyer put many of his lights on the bushes growing in front of his home at 125 Peachtree Hills Avenue. He figures he put out 10,000 lights this year.
He got them from his dad, who he said used to put 60,000 or so lights in the yard of the family’s home in Marietta. When dad switched to LED lights this year, Peri grabbed the old supply for his own. He quit after he’d put out the first 10,000 because he feared for his power bill if he kept going.
His display “makes me nostalgic,” he said. “It’s what I think about Christmas.”
He has no plans to try to match the light shows of his childhood, but he’s happy to carry on his family’s tradition of brightening the December skies. And, he said, his dad approves.
“Dad’s very excited. He’s very proud,” he said. “But he tells me I’ve got a long way to go.”