If you have ever driven by an over-the-top Christmas light display in your neighborhood or town and thought to yourself, “How in the world did that get started,” Mark Hyatt has a story for you.
The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., mortgage banker and his wife, Kathy, a local realtor, have put together light displays so extravagant for the past 27 years that they draw nearly 1,000 people per night between Thanksgiving and New Year’s and make the family’s home a must-see stop on South Florida Christmas lists every year.
For Mark Hyatt, the motivation to festoon his one-acre property and family home with 180,000 lights and spend eight hours per day from September on decorating his home began with watching his uncle and father decorate for Christmas as a child and, “impressing on [him] the tradition to celebrate Christmas,” he told ABCNews.com.
When Hyatt moved out on his own, he and his father engaged in a friendly rivalry that led to the local press labeling them “Mr. Christmas in Dade County,” for Hyatt Sr., and “Mr. Christmas in Broward County,” for his son.
“I took it to the extreme such that my father pretty much gave up and he bought a condo,” Hyatt said. “We merged, so his display now lives within mine. I’ve got lots of vintage things that go back 30 or 40 years.”
Hyatt is now passing on the decorating gene to his own children, an 11-year-old son who helps him with the lights, and an 8-year-old daughter who is among the “elves” handing out candy canes to visitors each night.
“I’m impressing the tradition and letting him know that he needs to carry it on,” Hyatt said of his son, perhaps a future rival.
Family is also what has drawn Mel and Patti Tasker of Laveen, Ariz., to install 200,000 lights, 310 cartoon character cutouts, 130 Christmas trees, 35 zoo animal cutouts, 27 reindeer, 19 snowmen and two lighted coconut trees on their two-acre property each of the past 15 Christmases.
“I grew up in a religious family that celebrated Christmas but with no Christmas tree or Christmas lights,” Patti Tasker told ABCNews.com. “When we got first married I wanted my first tree and my first Christmas lights. Then we went really big.”
“I’m the baby of six [kids] and everyone comes to “Aunt Pat’s house” for fun,” she said. “It’s for the kids, having fun and hearing them scream the names of the cartoons [characters].”
The Taskers, who have no children of their own, start building their display in late October and prepare their budget for the $500 spike they see in their monthly utility bill from Thanksgiving until January, when they’ll spend three to four weeks dismantling the display and storing it in their barn and house, where two bedrooms are full of Christmas items year-round.
While light displays like the Taskers are done for family, and the Hyatts’ raises money for the Humane Society and aims to leave visitors with a sense of “the traditions of Christmas,” according to Hyatt, that’s not to say there’s not a hint of Clark Griswold, the “National Lampoon,” character made famous by Chevy Chase, behind it all.
“Plus I like to show off,” Hyatt said.