'Twas the Lights Before Christmas
It's a scene that would make Clark Griswold proud. In the classic comedy "Christmas Vacation," the character, played by Chevy Chase, coats his house with 25,000 lights. And, as he gathers family, he ceremonially lights up his property like a landing strip - much to the dismay of his neighbors.
Mike Conlon shares Griswold's enthusiasm (and even has more lights to prove it - well over 100,000). But it's clear that Mr. Conlon's approach is more creative - and more admired by the public. He's been stopping traffic for six years with a yuletide spectacle that spans the entire front yard of his Saugus, Mass., home. Carloads of families pull over to gaze at a holiday palace that features giant snow globes, bright snowflakes dangling from trees, a life-size toy soldier, and a bridge lined with 12-foot candy canes.
"I've always liked lights," Conlon says. "I like anything that sparkles - lights, fancy clothing, diamonds. My wife is like that, too," he adds, laughing. They don't have children, but they welcome kids and their families to their yard each year.
On a recent winter night, Grace Rivas, age 12, and her brother, Bastian, 5, played in the snow and admired the lights with their parents. For them, a visit to the Conlons' home has become a holiday tradition. "It's beautiful. It reminds me of the North Pole," Grace says. "I love the candy canes and the balls in the trees."
Conlon begins plugging in Christmas displays a few days after Halloween - and it takes weeks to finish. It's such a big job, he hires an assistant, Marc Langlois, to help set up and maintain his yard. Mr. Langlois works eight to 10 hours a day changing light bulbs, fixing displays, and keeping the traffic moving.
Conlon also puts on shows for Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, the Fourth of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. He was initially drawn to this house because of its sweeping front yard: "I'm a big Elvis Presley fan, and this place reminds me of Graceland," he says. "I could picture what I could do here."
He stores his festive features in four backyard sheds, the attic, and the garage. "I don't have a basement," he says, with a tinge of regret.
All the holiday cheer comes with a hefty price tag. Last December, the Conlons' electric bill was $1,250. This year, he hopes it will be lower because he's installed 400 sets of LED lights, which use less electricity.
To stave off a neighborhood blackout, the electric company gave Conlon his own power pole last year, with enough electricity to run 50 houses. Before that, when Conlon would turn on his outside lights, the ones inside grew dim. "My wife couldn't blow-dry her hair," he recalls.
Conlon says all the work - and the electric bill - are worth it. He sees his show as a way to bring holiday cheer to the community; he even helps neighbors hang their lights. Visitors make donations to thank Conlon, and he gives all the money to children's charities.
For 12-year-old Grace, the show has given her a fond memory - and inspiration. "I want my house to look like this someday," she says with a smile.