Across America, in every city, in every state and in every town, every neighborhood has that house during the holiday season: a home whose owners risk colossal electric bills, the disruption of local traffic patterns and offending the aesthetic tastes of less-joyous neighbors with blinding public displays of cheer that last approximately from the beginning of December through the New Year.
Given that homes bedecked with Griswold-esque light displays aren’t exactly rare (even in this time of financial belt-tightening and energy conservation), we’ve sought out a few homes, businesses and entire neighborhoods where going gleefully over-the-top with the Christmastime décor (and we aren’t talking just about lights) is a time-honored tradition spanning multiple years and often multiple decades. As you’ll discover, these seasonal spectacles, usually erected as a labor of love and not to outdo the Johnsons down the street in the rubbernecking department, are each pretty special in their own unique way.
Miracle on 34th Street, Baltimore
Residents of 34th Street in Hampden — the joyously quirky, hon-loving Baltimore neighborhood forever immortalized in the 1999 John Waters film “Pecker” — have been gussying up their homes for the holidays in a jaw-dropping manner, good taste be damned, for the past 64 years. A blindingly garish spectacle that has to be seen to be believed, Hampden’s annual Miracle on 34th Street light display attracts visitors from around the world (much to the chagrin of those living/trying to find street parking in the area) clamoring to get a peek at highlights such as artist Jim Pollock’s repurposed hubcap Christmas trees and snowmen made from bicycle wheels. In addition to enjoying the show, visitors to Hampden are asked to not contribute to people soliciting for money to help pay for the residents’ electric bills as they are scam artists. Good to know!
Youngwood Court, Los Angeles
One of the highlights of the Youngwood Court display were the David statues dressed in Santa attire. (Photo: donielle/flickr)
As you may have heard, Norwood Young, R&B singer, recovering plastic surgery addict and self-described Hollywood socialite, is attempting to sell Youngwood Court, his HOA-baiting manse in L.A.’s Hancock Park neighborhood. And to make his six-bedroom home more attractive to potential buyers, Young has unloaded most of his possessions at auction, including oversized “Alice in Wonderland” chairs, a giant sculpture of Michael Jackson’s gloved hand, and, last but not least, the 19 replicas of Michelangelo’s David that once, so infamously, graced his front yard. Sadly, this means that Young’s annual tradition of festooning his outlandish home in twinkling white lights, covering his yard and surrounding sidewalks with layers of fake snow, and dressing up his David statues in Santa attire (last year’s elaborate display also included an African-American Mr. and Mrs. Claus on a throne), has become a thing of the past. Sad! For those who never got to experience the many whacked-out wonders of “Norrywood” in person, this video serves as a fittingly fabulous tribute.
The Pelzer Light People, Pelzer, S.C.
Listen up, Clark Griswold: Louise Watson, a sweet little old lady living in tiny Pelzer, S.C. (population: 97), has something to teach you. For maximum Christmastime rubbernecking, you can’t just garishly bedeck your home and front yard with Christmas lights. Noooo … that stuff’s for amateurs. You need to do that and cover yourself head-to-toe with Christmas lights and step out to the curb and wave, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade style, to stunned motorists. Donning DIY “light suits”— nothing fancy, just thrift store fabrics embedded with light strands that have been plugged into extension cords of considerable length — is exactly what Watson and her family have been doing for the past 20-plus years. Known collectively as the “Pelzer Light People,” Watson and her clan of light bulb bedizen-ers have been joined by neighbors, local weather forecasters, Elvis impersonators, and Santa himself in the past.
Fountains of Wayne, Wayne, N.J.
The Fountains of Wayne was the inspiration for an indie rock band and once appeared on an episode of 'The Sopranos.' (Photo: Jussi/flickr)
Fountains of Wayne, a kitsch-tastic lawn ornament emporium on Route 46 in New Jersey so (in)famous that it appeared on an episode of “The Sopranos” and an indie rock band named themselves after it, is sadly no longer in operation after being shuttered in 2009. Still, the store’s annual tradition of going waaaay over-the-top during the holidays lives on in the memories of North Jersey residents and curiosity seekers alike. As detailed by Roadside America, during the holidays, the second floor of the store was magically transformed into a slightly crazed, “It’s a Small World”-esque Christmastime collision of “Christianity, pop culture, slowly creaking mechanical dolls, and New Jersey motifs.” Among the standout tableaus of this dearly departed holiday attraction were Santa’s Pizzeria, Santa Under the Sea, Santa in the Amazon and A Grateful Celebration of Heroism, a doll-based tribute to the first responders of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Tiny Town, Easley, S.C.
About 20 miles from Pelzer, S.C., where light suit-wearing residents brave electrocution and high utility bills to spread old-fashioned holiday cheer, you’ll find Tiny Town, an elaborate, 30-building-strong Christmas village — complete with a miniature McDonalds and a church — inhabited by a small army of creepy baby dolls and Jesus-on-a-crucifix. A local holiday tradition since the 1970s, this charming-but-also-somewhat-unsettling (it all depends on how you feel about hundreds of lifeless eyes watching you) roadside attraction was the labor of love of the late Perry Jennings and his wife, Ollie. The couple’s daughter, Pat, is now carrying on the Tiny Town legacy. Said Ollie, who passed away in 2009, in the short documentary above about the seasonal doll village erected in her front yard: “I’m like the old woman who lived in a shoe who had so many children she didn’t know what to do. So I’m like her, I got so many dolls I don’t know what to do with ‘em all.”
Mike Babick’s Christmas House, Prairie Village, Kan.
Meet Mike Babick, a fellow whose breathtakingly bonkers annual display of holiday cheer at his home on Falmouth Drive in Prairie Village, Kan., would surely send the Grinch running for cover … the Grinch or those with an aversion to hundreds of mechanical dolls slowly lurching in unison within the confines of Santa’s Workshop and other window displays. It’s difficult to accurately describe Babick’s controversial, traffic-snarling Christmastime decorating habits — he’s been at it for more than 40 years now — so we’ll let the video above do the talking.