The art of holiday lights
ADDISON COUNTY — Ten thousand lights, a half-mile of extension cords and 60 hours of hard work setting up — for Salisbury resident Wayne Smith, that sounds like a recipe for Christmas spirit.
Smith takes to his yard every November to start stringing up an extensive display of lights and holiday decorations that, for 15 years, has been his way of marking the season. It started small, with a few decorations here and there, but by the time Smith bought a bit more property at his home at the north end of Lake Dunmore, he had the room to go crazy.
Now, he said, he’s got the display set up so that visitors can pull through his circular driveway to admire the lights.
Smith isn’t alone in the county. Come the holiday season, there’s nothing like breaking out the decorations to jumpstart holiday celebrations, and many people do just that.
Smith said that once his light display is up he has a steady stream of visitors, and the neighbors are always excited about the display, he said. Sometimes kids will hop out of the vehicles that brought them and run around. Smith warns them to watch out for that half-mile of extension cords, but otherwise they’re free to roam the lighted winter wonderland.
It’s not cheap. All of the lights add an extra $15 a day to Smith’s electricity bill, which tallies up to an additional $450 come Christmastime. But Smith doesn’t mind.
“That’s my Christmas present to Addison County,” he said.
The display changes a little every year, but Smith has a soft spot for his old Case tractor, which he decks out in orange lights.
If you ask Smith his age, he’ll only admit to being “over 60.” So long as health permits, he hopes to be continuing his decorating for yeas to come. He chips away at the decorations a little bit every day through most of November, and by Dec. 1 every year he’s ready to flip the switch. The decorations — which take 40 hours to take down and store at the end of the season — come down on Jan. 1.
Meanwhile, the holiday lights and seasonal decorations are going up elsewhere in the county.
In Vergennes, Roger and Sue Hayes are already looking forward to their annual holiday tradition. Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, the couple constructs the Christmas manger in downtown Vergennes near the city park. The two have been the keepers of the manger for more than 30 years, a job they take seriously. Sue’s repainted the figurines.
But the Hayeses aren’t the only ones who take the manger scene seriously. Last year, once the Christmas scene was packed away, Roger Hayes got a phone call from a father. After the manger disappeared for the year, the father explained, his toddler had voiced some concerns.
Now that Christmas was over, the child wanted to know, where was the baby Jesus sleeping?
So Roger invited the father and child over, and took them into the basement of the church where the manger is stored 11 months out of 12. That seemed to do the trick, he said.
But the manger isn’t the only way Roger and Sue Hayes celebrate the season. They deck out their Maple Manor home in very traditional, simple decorations: White lights, wreaths on every window, and a bright star adorn the house.
“You should see what (my wife) does on the inside of our house,” Roger said.
Across the county in Starksboro, Peg Casey also jumps in on the decorating game. She’s been decorating since she and her husband moved into their house on the main drag in town in 1988.
She keeps it simple: a nativity scene, green boughs and red bows, and a sprinkling of lights here and there. But for Casey, that’s enough. It’s part of what makes the holidays fun, she said.
Back in Vergennes, Laurel and Howard Jewell are also gearing up for the holiday season.
Laurel said it’s her husband every year who heads out into the yard with armfuls of decorations, spending four or five hours to deck the halls in style. The couple has lived in their Vergennes house for three years, and each year they amass a bigger collection of decorations, thanks to Laurel’s bargain hunting. She waits until after the holidays to scoop up new decorations on sale.
Their decorations include inflatable Christmas figures, a giant Santa Claus, and Christmas lights on their house and the trees in their yard.
Laurel admitted that running Christmas lights and inflatable figures can add an extra expense to the family’s electricity bill, come Christmastime. So the Jewells try to cut back where they can. They’re switching to LED lighting for the outdoor lights, and they only keep the lights on for a few hours every night in the early evening, when cars and neighbors are most likely to drive by.
The passersby love the display, Laurel said. Sometimes, cars even stop, and visitors will snap photographs of the Jewells’ home.
“My husband really enjoys seeing people drive by really slow,” said Laurel. “He knows exactly what they’re looking at.”
What’s most gratifying, Laurel said, is knowing that their house does a little bit to spread Christmas cheer come wintertime.