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When I reflect on 2013, what will always come to mind first is that it was the year my Mom moved on.  It was her love of Christmas that ultimately led to our light display.  She made Christmas so magical for me as a child it was just natural for me to want to do the something to make it magical for my children. This desire, along with a few other ‘turns’ along the way, brought our display from 600 lights in 1995, to nearly 400,000 in 2013.

Doing the special fund raiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in honor of my mother was a lot of fun and very rewarding for all of us.  We were very pleased with the TLC show ‘My Crazy Obsession” airing on Dec 7.  It was great that they told the true story about the fund raiser and why we did it.  

ERDAJT on MCO Christmas Special 2 from Timothy J Gay on Vimeo.

The story of how this fund raiser came to be started in March - when I was contacted about appearing on a show that would air on TLC in December.  I wasn’t that interested, but thought maybe it would be a good experience for Em, Dan and John so I sent in the required casting videos.  Within a week they informed me that they really wanted us on the show and that they would be filming in May.  I wasn’t interested in setting up the display in May, nor were Dan and John, so I told the show that they were welcome to film in November if they wanted to.  The producer asked me if there was any reason I would set up the display in May.  I said I would think about it and get back to her.  That very night it occurred to me that I would do this for a fund raiser.  Since my Mom had requested donations to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, in lieu of flowers, I new the perfect cause.  I called her back and said I would do it.  I also got in touch with the local St. Jude network and the UVFD.  We ended up doing a very special event on May 11th, Mother’s Day Eve.  In just 2 ½ hours, we raised over $6,000 for this honorable organization.  To make all of this happen we had to greatly accelerate our normal schedule.   We had only a few weeks to not only set up the display but to also add the new elements we had planned for 2013.  The individual impacted the most by all of this was John.  He had the idea to create leaping light trees.  Our friend, Erik loaned us his deer stand and John was able to complete all three 50 foot trees in time.  A big thank you to John’s friend, Ethan who helped John create all 3 of the trees.   In total it took him and Ethan each about 50 hours to create these trees.  I think they are one of the coolest items we have ever added to the display.  Each tree has about 7,000 lights, and 15 individually controlled channels.  As our neighbor Bill said, they look like giant roman candles.  We also added one of Dan’s designs. We call it the spiral, and it is composed of 4 concentric circles, Green, Blue, Red and gold and it is a a fine addition.  And lastly we added a 5th heart to our display and this heart will always be known as the Mother’s Day Heart.

Of course, I dedicated this year’s display to my Mom, and I also choreographed a special song for her:

In all the years we have been doing the light display I have only dedicated the display 2 times and in both cases that was to my Mom, which seems fitting since the display probably would not have happened if not for her love of Christmas. 

I know that she would be absolutely delighted with how much money has been raised at our light display to assist children.  In addition to the fund raiser for St. Jude, we did fund raisers for The Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie, and The Ryan McElroy Foundation for children with cancer, raising about $3,500 for each one.  And the UVFD also uses a large portion of what they collect, to help children as well.  Last year they used more than $10,000 to buy a smoke house which is used to teach children how to respond rapidly in the presence of smoke.  They told me that they used it at multiple schools in the area as well as with Girl Scout troops.  They also buy educational supplies to use at the local schools.   Additionally, they use money to help cancer victims, and families that have fires in their home.  Shortly before our display started this year, a neighbor just a few houses down on Patrick had a structural fire and the UVFD provided them with cash to help with immediate needs.  Then, a few days after the lights were down a family on Waterbury Hill Road had a fire and they also received assistance from the UVFD.  In 2013, they helped 5 individuals with cancer in Dover, East Fishkill, LaGrange, Poughkeepsie, and Wassiac.  In total, for 2013 we totaled $33,809 in fund raising bringing our 3 year total to $79,188 – much thanks to everyone who contributes!

In September we made the decision to do a 2nd TV show.  I was a little reluctant to do it as they are so time consuming, but Grace and Emily really wanted to do it. At the time I was contacted, the show was called ‘Lights, Camera, Christmas and it was structured as a contest.  Since our display is intentionally very unique, I was not fond of the idea of it being judged and compared to the ’typical’ display.  Most visitors to our display enjoy the uniqueness and generally love it.  But of course, there are those, that don’t ‘get it’ at all.  Anyway, bowing from pressure from both the family, and from the show production team, I finally agreed to do the show.  Since the show was a contest there were a bunch of rules.  The most challenging of these being that we had only 3 weeks to set up the entire display.   I came home from work early everyday and met Dan and John when they got off the bus.  We would work until it was dark outside.  On weekends, we were up at the crack of dawn and we worked until it was pitch black outside.  Once I decided to do the show, I also made the decision to incorporate two RGB elements I was planning for 2014.  RGB (Red, Green, Blue), is a relatively new technology that has been evolving rapidly the past few years.  It is truly incredible in that you can use it to make elements that can be any color.  This is accomplished by adjusting the intensity of the red, green and blue LEDs, that make up each pixel.  The two elements I wanted to incorporate were RGB Flood lights pointed at the house, and a 15 foot mega tree.  I knew that I would not have the time to create and deploy these two new elements, since
I only had 3 weeks to put up the entire display.  So I reached out to our good friend, Sean.  Sean has been a key member of our display since we animated it in 2007.  He has helped in many ways, most notably as the creator and care taker of our website.  When I shared with him my ideas, he didn’t flinch.  And wow, what a job he did.  As my son John put it, ‘Wow, Sean is like a professional’.  The 40 RGB flood lights pointed at the house was beyond spectacular.  We can now make the house any color, and we can ‘strobe’ it.  The mega tree is gorgeous and stopped cars dead in their track.

Since these items were planned for 2014, we will not be adding too much this coming season.  A couple more leaping light trees will do it.  The other key factor is, I’m not really sure how much longer we will be doing this.  Dan will be a senior in high school next year and then off to college.  John is only one year behind him.  How much longer we do this will depend on where they go to school, and what they want to do.

We were in the final episode of the ABC show which was renamed The Great Christmas Light Fight.  I’m very glad we did the show, it was quite an experience for all of us.   We had both judges in our episode.  I think Sabrina Soto really loved the display and she was a lot of fun to talk with.  Michael Moloney seemed mostly interested in fixing his hair and goofing around with Sabrina.  His primary focus seemed to be on how the extension cords on the ground ran all over and were not ‘neat’.   When the producer called me to tell me we didn’t win, he kept apologizing.  After the episode aired, I got notes from people all over the country telling me we should have won.  It was a ton of fun though, and we learned a lot about how TV shows are made.  How we look at a TV show will never be the same!

We had two more couples become engaged at our display this year which brings the total engagements to five!  How cool is that – five couples tying the knot in our driveway.  It was another great season with many memories for us and again, we thank everyone who contributes to the worthwhile charities we support.  And a huge thank you to all the folks that came over and helped us take the whole display down in less than 2 days!  That was truly phenomenal and we hope to repeat it this year. 

Check out our 2013 Display Introduction: