Deck the Halls … Locals light the way for Santa

In wake of tax approval, Terrebonne levee board awards bids
December 19, 2012
CRIME BLOTTER: Reported offenses in the Tri-parishes
December 19, 2012
In wake of tax approval, Terrebonne levee board awards bids
December 19, 2012
CRIME BLOTTER: Reported offenses in the Tri-parishes
December 19, 2012

How big of a glow do 240,000 LED Christmas lights emit?

Just drive by 142 Cleveland St. on Houma’s east side to find out.

“It started off small and then it just grew into a monster,” said Earl McElroy, whose Houma residence and yard is covered in almost a quarter of a million twinkling LED lights. “I’m partial to the roof, but I like a little bit of it all. Every year, we try to do something different.”

McElroy and his wife Julie been have decorating the outside of their home for the last 30 years and, at 5:15 p.m. daily from Dec. 1 to Jan. 5, the McElroy’s kick on their unrivaled, in their neighborhood at least, light display.

“I like the alternating blue and white lights on the roof, but I love all the lights,” Julie said. “They are just beautiful.”

“We see a lot of traffic during the holidays,” Earl said. “I’ve got cameras in the front and back of the house, and I watch people drive by.” The crowds are somewhat steady weekdays and non-stop on weekends.

The light display was originally Julie’s idea but, within a few years, Earl had jumped on the brightly lit bandwagon.

“I just decorate the inside of the house now,” Julie said, standing in her kitchen, each of her cabinet doors decorated with a snowman placard and her snack bar outfitted with a glowing, faux-snow covered mini-village. “I just like Christmas.”

“She’s fanatic,” Earl chimes. But it is Earl who dresses as Santa the week before Christmas and hands out candy canes to children passing by, Julie is quick to note.

Each year, Earl begins putting up the light display in October and, over the following eight weeks, spends more than 200 hours hanging strands of blue, red and white lights over the dwelling. A separate breaker box is required to power the display. And for the 36 days the McElroy home lights light the night, the family’s power bill spikes approximately $60 to $70.

Come January, the assembly process is reversed and the display is returned to three large mini-storage units.

“Our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren love it,” Julie said of the holiday ritual. “Earl said he was going to stop putting up the lights, and one of the grandkids said ‘Oh no you’re not.’”

The McElroy’s home is just one of the hundreds of houses in the Houma area that have been given the full treatment for the Christmas season.

On Houma’s westside, Valhi Boulevard visitors enjoy Robert Adams’ homemade Christmas decorations.

“My husband made those angels for me after my dad passed away,” said Angela Adams. “Woodwork is his hobby. He takes over the outdoor Christmas decorating every year and changes it each year.

“If we run across things we really like, we may add to the collection,” she said.

The Adams have decorated the past 15 years. This year, their 102 Valhi Blvd. residence includes two large wooden angels playing trumpets, as well as Santa Claus sitting in a wooden sleigh pulled by wooden reindeer.

“We love Christmas so much,” Robert said. “It’s a fun time to decorate. The inside of the house is decorated just as much. We don’t have any children, but our two nieces and two nephews love the decorations.”

If it’s a spiritual Christmas theme onlookers seek, Patricia and Ray Darcy’s home – at 325 Hawthorne St. in Houma – is outfitted with a nativity scene and statues of the Three Wise Men.

“Our last grandchild is in college, and we don’t have any great-grandchildren, yet, to enjoy it,” Ray said, laughing.

This is the 14th year the Darcy’s have decorated at Christmas. This year’s display took Ray about 20 hours, over the course of a week, to set up, including lighting the back yard.

“I used to put up a display when we lived in Thibodaux, and we even got first place in a decorating contest there in the early 1980s,” Ray said. “We had dancing bears in the windows and a life-size Santa at the front door.”

Like the McElroys, the Darcy’s home interior is also decorated, mainly with Patricia’s Santa Claus figurine collection.

“The neighbors like our outdoor display,” Ray said. “We get lots of compliments from people up and down the street, and people thank me for putting up the display. I do it for the kids in the area.”

In addition to all the twinkling homes across the area, a few businesses are also getting into massive Christmas light displays.

“When we first started going to industry meetings after we opened for business, people didn’t know where we were located,” said NREC Power Systems executive assistant Joanie Jenkins. “I would tell them, ‘We’re the business on La. Highway 311 in Houma with all the Christmas lights.’ My boss said to me ‘You know we’re not in the Christmas light business, right?’”

Jenkins has been in charge of the business’s light display, which includes 21 different arrangements, since the company opened in 1993. The arrangements, centered on military, child and religious themes, include a nativity, Santa in a pirogue, elves, shrimp, flopping fish, alligators and even a train.

“All three of the themes are important,” Jenkins said. “My favorite ones are the angels. When my brother died 13 years ago, some of my coworkers got together and bought the angels in his memory. After the angels, I like the Santa light, too. I love Santa. My daughter thinks I’m crazy when I want to talk to him at the mall.”

The business’ display takes 15 workers – the whole electrical department and a few from the mechanical department – three weeks to set up. A separate power source keeps the lights glowing.

“When we get them set up, the workers ask me ‘Are you sure this is all of them?’” Jenkins said.

Visitors are welcome to walk among the lights to get an up-close peek.

“The display is a great way to promote goodwill in the community,” she said. “We get a lot of compliments. The lights are very important to so many people. Some people even think we are selling the lights.”

With so many lights strung up in preparation for the biggest holiday of the year, safety must not be forgotten.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, more than 128,700 fires occur in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with the majority of fires caused by cooking. During the holidays, an estimated 1,650 injuries, 415 deaths and close to $25.5 million in property damage also occur.

Those who decorate with lights are encouraged to check for loose connections, broken or cracked sockets or frayed wires and use UL approved lighting. For tree decorating, the lights should be secured to the tree to prevent bulbs from touching the needles or branches. Turning off any light displays before turning in for the evening or leaving home is also suggested.

Earl McElroy beings putting up the light display on his home in October, and the labor of love takes him more then 200 hours to complete. McElroy also dresses up as Santa the week before Christmas and hands out candy canes to passing children.