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Baltimore-area homes that go all out with holiday light displays

A 25-foot Santa bursts through a rowhouse’s front door in Federal Hill. Dozens of holiday-themed inflatables stand at attention on a Catonsville lawn. And in Joppa, a driveway is framed with dazzling arches, leading visitors to an array of homemade light installations.

In addition to well-known holiday lights like Hampden’s Miracle on 34th Street or Columbia’s Symphony of Lights, residents all over the region are taking it upon themselves to bring the holiday cheer for neighbors and visitors far and wide with displays of their own. Here are five awe-worthy homes that take holiday lights to the next level.

3208 Glouchester Drive, Fallston

Bordered by electric luminarias and blanketed with an assortment of white lights, Georgeanna Garceau’s home has been a holiday highlight in her Fallston neighborhood for more than three decades.

The owner of Garceau Realty said the 30-year-plus tradition started with her deep love for Christmas and soon morphed into three acres of majestic white, red and green lights and installations, including a series of bright reindeer leading Santa on his sleigh. Her backyard playhouse and swing set, a main attraction for Garceau’s grandchildren, are also decorated with sparkling green laser lights.

"It’s kind of fun for everybody. Lights make you feel good,” said Garceau, 66, who hires a contractor each year to install the lights. The process, she said, is time consuming, starting in early November and lasting several weeks.

Stephan Cox, owner of landscaping, mulching and masonry company Cox Enterprises, LLC, has been decorating the space for the past three years. This year, Cox said the display took at least a million lights and several circuit breakers to create the show-stopping spectacle.

Garceau said her home, which she shares with husband and 105.7 The Fan sportscaster Scott Garceau, even draws visitors from out of state.

“People have knocked on our door, brought us cookies,” she said.

It’s clear that the custom has made an impact. Georgeanna Garceau said more and more neighbors have been decorating their homes, and without a doubt, the display has kept the power bill high and the electrician busy.

But “what difference does it make at this point?” Garceau said of the cost. “It makes everyone feel good.”

1300 Ridge Road, Catonsville

When Bernard George McCartney IV’s daughter Sarah was in the second grade, she wanted a major holiday scene in her yard. She had no idea just how extravagant things would get.

More than 10 years later, the 69-year-old McCartney, who goes by “Mac,” has adorned his Catonsville property with 60 illuminated inflatables of all shapes and sizes, including 12-foot Mickey Mouse and Santa figures, animated penguins that hide and emerge from an igloo, and various scenes involving Santa and his reindeer, including a “Student Driver” reindeer that crashed Santa’s sleigh. McCartney said he purchased the latter when his daughter was learning to drive.

“It was a running comedy in the family,” said Sarah McCartney, now 18.

Each year, the family of blow-up character grows, making Mac McCarntey’s corner Ridge Road home hard to miss.

“I’m totally amazed [by] the comments people stop and make,” he said.

McCartney’s family has also received gift cards and anonymous thank you cards. Some have even left unsolicited inflatables in his yard or sidewalk, which he then incorporates into his display.

On the flip side, inflatables are vulnerable to damage by wind, rain, snow — and people, which can make them difficult to maintain.

McCartney said his display was vandalized two years in a row, with several of his inflatables cut up and destroyed. During those years, he was ready to give up, but his wife encouraged him.

“She said, ‘If you don’t do it, you’re going to disappoint too many kids and the vandals are going to win,’ so I put them back,” McCartney said, adding that he hasn’t had any problems in the the past two years.

For McCartney, the work is never done.

Each night, “I’m usually adding something, a light here or there,” he said. “It brings out so much joy and peace to everybody. It’s worth doing as long I can do it.”

3008 W. Franklinville Road, Joppa

On a recent Monday, Scott Hayward was busy plotting how to arrange around 90,000 lights and his many custom-made decorations for his annual Christmas display — after all, it has to look good from the street, 350 feet away.

The 56-year-old electrician and building engineer, who lives high atop a hill in Joppa, launched his decorations in modest fashion in 2003, using some rope lighting and a handful of other embellishments. Now, his 1.5-acre property is full of dazzling hand-crafted arches made of bent PVC pipes leading from the street up his driveway, a custom “Peace on Earth” sign on his roof, A-frame Christmas trees made from lumber, and a variety of homemade adornments, including a large star of David, 6-foot-plus snowmen, snowflake figurines, illuminated candy canes and a nativity scene.

Hayward, who accents his handmade trimmings with store-bought motion lights and figurines, said visitors often drive under the arches to get a closer view.

“You don’t see many that you can drive up under ... so it sets me apart from a lot of displays in that aspect,” he said.

He also includes a box at the end of the road, where visitors can read more about the presentation, donate to help Hayward purchase new lights for future displays, and leave suggestions and comments. Hayward takes these suggestions to heart. One year, a boy asked him to incorporate something sports-oriented, so Hayward created Orioles and Ravens-themed displays with orange and purple lights, he said.

“It’s very expensive. Just the electric bill for November and December is a killer,” costing around $1,500 total, Hayward said. Decorating also gets harder the older he gets, but his admirers make it worth it.

With around three-quarters of his decorations up, “people are already stopping and looking,” said Hayward, and he expects even more visitors after he completes his display around Dec. 11. The lights will be on from around 5:30 p.m. until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday throughout the holiday season.

407 Gittings Ave., Cedarcroft, Baltimore

William F. Ariano Jr., 68, grew up outside of Philadelphia in a small development where the neighborhood dads would decorate their homes every holiday season.

“It was a big social thing, and they'd all get together to see who had the nicest lights and presentation. I just saw what that did as far as bringing people together,” Ariano said.

So starting in 1992, his family’s first winter at their Gittings Avenue home, Ariano continued the tradition, using just six strands of lights. Around 15 years later, he’s stopped counting, using multi-colored lights, decorative sleighs and reindeer props, and colorful arches for an ethereal display that has become a hallmark of the holidays in the Cedarcroft neighborhood.

“My wife says, if it doesn't move, I've got a light on it,” said Ariano, adding that as the trees and brushes grow, so does his display.

But success doesn’t come without sacrifice. His monthly electric bill increases by $200 to $300, even after switching most of his lighting to LED bulpbs to help preserve some power. Decorations typically take from the middle of October to early December to complete and he spends five hours a day on the weekends putting it together. By the end it, “I am so sore,” Ariano admitted.

But like many other homeowners who put in extra effort for a holiday display, Ariano said he does it for the people “that come out at 8:30 at night with their kids. It's people who stop by, who say ‘When I was a kid, I looked forward to this.”

He recalled a time when a woman confessed that visiting his home with her daughter was the only way they could celebrate Christmas.

“It's amazing how these types of things affect people. ... The people enjoy it and it brings a certain amount of happiness and joy,” he said.

“I just come and sit in the driveway and I just giggle.”

800 and 1400 blocks of William St., Federal Hill, Baltimore

Miracle on 34th Street might be the best-known block of lights in the city, but Federal Hill is aiming to give its Hampden neighbors a run for their money. For the past seven years, James Boicourt, 34, and John DeLong, 42, have organized a Federal Hill Holiday Decorating Contest, challenging neighbors to spruce up their rowhouses with colorful lights and draw-dropping decorations, while offering tutorials and assisting them in installations.

“I have been shocked every year at how awesome and how beautiful it really is,” said Boicourt, who during the holiday season often identifies as his alter-ego Clark Griswold, (a la “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”). “It brings a lot of warmth to this time of year when the community needs it.”

The Federal Hill resident already has a 25-foot inflatable Santa bursting through his front door at 1421 William St., and a 6-foot-plus Nutcracker Rat King figurine stand nearby. Neighbor Zach Feldmann has joined in on the fun, helping to adorn his and Boicourt’s conjoined rowhomes with a rat Santa, led by his rodent friends instead of reindeer.

Boicourt said the neighborhood decorating contest is “very quickly approaching Hampden levels of awesomeness. And we’re not the only people doing this.” In recent years, the contest has expanded to homes in surrounding South Baltimore neighborhoods, including Locust Point and Riverside, all competing for the honor of “best block.”

The residents of the 800 block of William St. in Federal Hill have also continued a collaborative tradition of draping each of their homes in twinkling white lights. The return of a lighted “Believe” sign hanging over the street is a capstone of the street’s all-hands-on-deck decorating project, said Debra Nelson, the “block captain.”

The sign, which had been blown down in a wind storm, is a fixture of the neighborhood. Couples have gotten engaged under it, said Nelson

“It has a real kind of sense of winter wonderland and magic to it,” the 60-year-old said of the block.

“We feel a connection and a relationship among each other, which I think is really important and really makes a statement and serves as an example for other blocks.”

More lights

Miracle on 34th Street The Hampden block’s yearly tradition of outrageous light display returns for viewing in its 71st year. 720 W. 34th St. Free. christmasstreet.com.

Tour de Dundalk All aboard the yellow school bus for a 90-minute magical tour of holiday lights. The tour takes off at 7 p.m., with a pit stop at Howard’s Pub for a much-needed food and dance break. Seats are limited and must be reserved ahead of time. 6:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Dec. 15. Pickup location TBD, South Baltimore. $30. For more information, email Mary Helfrich at mrshelfrich@gmail.com or visit the tour’s Facebook page.

Symphony of Lights Music Drive past dozens of light creations, a laser light show and a 3-D video, all set to holiday tunes. 6:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. on weekends and holidays through Jan. 1. Closed on Dec. 31. Broken Land Parkway and Hickory Ridge Road, Columbia. $20-$25. hopkinsmedicine.org.

Lights on the Bay at Sandy Point State Park Embark on a scenic drive along the Chesapeake Bay shore and a roadway lined with 60 dazzling animated and stationary displays. 5 p.m.-10 p.m. daily through Jan. 1, 2018. 1100 E. College Pkwy, Annapolis. $15-$50 per vehicle. lightsonthebay.org.

Gaithersburg Winter Lights Festival The phrase “it’s lit” takes on a literal meaning during this 3.5 mile drive through Seneca Creek State Park, which will feature more than 300 light displays, 65 animated vignettes, and themed areas, like the Winter Woods, Teddy Bear Land, and the North Pole. 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Runs through Dec. 31 (closed on Christmas Day). 11950 Clopper Road, Gaithersburg. $12-$70 per vehicle. gaithersburgmd.gov/leisure/winter-lights-festival.

Walking in a Christmas Wonderland - North Pole Lights Wander through Willow Oak Flower & Herb Farm’s majestic Winter Wonderland with trails leading to bright Christmas scenes, including Santa’s Cabin, a gingerbread house, and Polar Bear Central. 4:30 p.m.-7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 23. 8109 Telegraph Rd, Severn. $5-$7. willowoakherbs.com/northpole.html.

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