While most people begin gearing up for the Christmas season right around Thanksgiving, Coventry resident Tyler Horrocks begins at bit earlier - in August. This holiday season marks the seventh year that Horrocks has built an awe-inspiring light display in the front yard of his family's home at 9 Blue Spruce Drive - a display that takes much longer than the average weekend to prepare.
"I start in August by preparing the yard, cutting overgrown tree limbs, moving bushes if necessary, then I move on to designing and painting the scenery…by November I start to lay all of the connection points and by then there's always work to do on it," he explained. "From August to January, I'm 100 percent Christmas all the way, even my iPod, except for my gym playlist, is switched over to Christmas music."
Horrocks, a Hospitality Management major at Johnson & Wales, said that he has been interested in yard decorating since he was 11 years old, but really got hands-on when his dad gave him an eight-connection light set when he was 14. Since then, his display, aptly named "The Crazy Christmas House", grows each year and now boasts 72 connections, nearly three miles of wire and 67,151 working bulbs. He estimates having spent about $7,000 on the display since its inception, frequently adding new pieces and replacing those that have stopped working.
As the years go on, more and more spectators park in front of the home each night to witness the festive sight, that not only includes traditional lights and painted backdrops, but also a 25-track play-list synchronized with the lights that can be heard by tuning the car radio to 107.5 FM. New this year is the Polar Express that was funded by a donation from Soundscape Professional DJ Services of Pawtucket and a screen decorated as a large wreathe that will play music videos along with the soundtrack, purchased with a donation from Gordon Orthodontics of Coventry.
Horrocks uses a computer program and a hacked iPod car transmitter to sync the display with the music, allowing visitors to view the free show from the warmth of their vehicles. He also participates in an on-line community that lets him share ideas and tips with fellow Christmas display makers around the world.
"I'm really lucky because they let me do basically whatever I want with the display," said Horrocks of his dad, Carl and mom, Catherine. "They've given me complete creative control."
They also foot the $500-$600 electric bill each year to support the hobby that has become a holiday tradition for many families - and not just those from Coventry.
"I've had people drive from Providence several times a week to see the display before," he said. "The best thing in the world is having people thank me for creating a family tradition for them. People look forward to it because anyone, rich or poor, can enjoy it."
Aside from spreading holiday cheer to local families, this year, Horrocks' display will be a method of fund-raising for the second time in a row. Last year, it raised nearly $5,000 that went towards the medical bills of family friend, Jennifer Mattress, after she was involved in a car crash in Alabama that left her in a coma for 11 days.
This year, the goal is to raise $7,500 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Once the display comes down after the holidays and the donations are totaled, the Foundation will reveal which local child will have their wish granted.
"I've been offered donations before personally, but this is my hobby and I don't want to be paid for it," Horrocks went on to say. "People are willing to give to help others, even complete strangers, so for me to give them a place to do that is great."
Horrocks does admit that with a full course load at school, his job as a cake decorator at Dave's Market in Wickford, and other everyday obligations, the display is basically another full-time job that he may need to take a break from at some point.
"I do it on a year-by-year basis and this might be the last time for a while, but my dream would be to turn this into some kind of great non-profit community organization that brings people together to support important causes," he said. "It would be a lot of work and definitely way down the line, but I would love to be able to start something like that."
The Crazy Christmas House display will be unveiled at a kick-off event on Saturday, Nov. 24 at 5:30 p.m. that will include special appearances by Santa and a local Make-A-Wish child. After Saturday, the display can be viewed Sunday-Thursday from 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5-11 p.m., from 5-11 p.m. on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and until about 12:30 a.m. on New Year's.