For many, the winter holidays are a time to marvel at magical decorations — but for at least two Carroll County families, the winter holidays are a time to create that magic for their neighborhoods.
Shortly after Thanksgiving each year, both the McElroys in Finksburg and the Lewins in Eldersburg set up holiday lights to synchronize with music on the radio, and this year both are accepting donations for nonprofits in need.
The Finksburg light show runs from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. every night through Dec. 31 at 2655 Deer Park Road, and the McElroys are accepting cat food donations for Darby’s Place Cat Rescue in Mount Airy.
The Eldersburg light show runs from 5 to 10 p.m. every night through Jan. 6 at 5565 Compton Lane, and the Lewins are accepting underwear and sock donations for The Shepherd’s Staff in Westminster.
Shane and Silver’s Christmas Light Show
“When [my husband and I] first started dating, I was big-time into Christmas,” said Silver McElroy. “When we first met, the first time he came to my house he saw that I had a Christmas tree in every room of the house, and was shocked at how into Christmas I was.”
Now, they are hosting their Christmas light show for the 11th year.
“We’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars with controls and lights, and buying all kinds of stuff,” she said, “and a 17-foot, we call it our ‘mega tree’ completely made out of lights.”
In addition to the mega tree, the couple has 35 2-foot Christmas trees in the yard, big ball lights hanging from the trees and the roof of their house is lined with lights.
“We add stuff every year,” she said.
The same goes for the music, broadcast on 91.7 FM, in a show that is now about 40 minutes long.
“We started out with seven songs, now we are up to 20 songs each year,” McElroy said. “We always add a little something — whether we are adding it to the music, adding it to the show, or we put the money into upgrading.”
Some of her favorite songs are “Wizards in Winter” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, “Boogie Woogie Santa” and “Dig that Crazy Santa” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra — but the list also has songs like “Mr. Snow Miser/Mr. Heat Miser,” “My Favorite Things,” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”
But McElroy’s love of Christmas also inspired her to help others. Since the couple has been living in Carroll County she has been volunteering with various cat shelters, and even adopted four cats of her own: Ashley, Billy, Outlaw and Colt.
During the holidays she takes the opportunity to use her lights as a way to gather donations for different charities, and this year she chose Darby's Place Cat Rescue in Mount Airy.
Within the past two years though, donations have dropped drastically — from copious bags of cat food that barely fit in a minivan, to scarcely more than five. McElroy said this year might be the last year she does the light show if the community support for cat shelters stays so low.
“I do have a huge passion for the lights and the decorations, and everything like that,” she said, “but it does take a lot of time. it does cost a lot of money.
“The reason why it’s so important to me, I like being able to provide it to the community,” said McElroy, “but the big part of it is the animal rescue part. I’m a huge, huge supporter of several rescues in the area and it gives me the opportunity to bring focus to these rescues. … I don’t ask for any kind of monetary support for the show, I just ask people, please bring a donation.”
Lewin Family Lights
About a 10-minute drive away sits another magical winter neighborhood.
On Compton Lane in Eldersburg, the Lewin family’s lights cycle through five songs on a loop from 5 to 10 p.m. on 91.1 FM — amid myriad houses with their own holiday light projections, inflatables, and twinkling string lights.
“I’ve been putting up lights at this house since we moved in in 2001,” said Andy Lewin on Tuesday evening, “but have only been doing the light shows like this for five years.
“I had 32 channels for the first couple years and then I bought a bunch more gear,” he said, “so I’ve got about 128 channels.”
Channels allow him to control the lights — turn them on and off, control intensity, make them dim or bright, said Lewin.
“So, for example,” he said, “I’ve got bushes in the front. If I want to make each bush go on and off, each bush has to be on its own channel. And each bush has four channels, so I’ve got five bushes in the front — that’s 20 channels right there. It’s not hard, but it’s not inexpensive.”
Songs on the Lewin family playlist include “Deck the Halls” by Mannheim Steamroller, “Carol of the Bells” by Pentatonix, “Christmas in Hollis” by Run-DMC, “We Three Kings” by Straight No Chaser and “I Saw Three Ships” by Sting.
“I tried to pick songs that would go well with lights,” Lewin said. “When people watch lights, they don’t want something slow.”
“Run-DMC is pretty different from Pentatonix,” he said. “And if you think about it, if there is one song ever you’d set lights to, ‘Deck the Halls’ by Mannheim Steamroller would be it.
“It’s the only one where I turn on all the lights,” said Lewin. “I only do it for not even a second at a time, but I put on all four colors for that burst of light to get the maximum effect.”
And, for passersby feeling the holiday spirit, next to the mailbox this year is a tote to drop off underwear and sock donations for The Shepherd’s Staff, the Westminster Christian outreach and support center.
“We deliberately went for sort of the unglamorous things that tend not to get covered, but that’s just the problem, they’re not covered,” said Lewin. “We talked about doing that for a couple years, and my only concern was I didn’t want anyone to feel an obligation.
“I didn’t want anyone to think, ‘I don't want to see lights this year and feel guilty,’ ” he said. “If we can do good, that’s great, and we can be happy about that. But the idea of the show is to enjoy it — and by the same token, for those people who want to make sure they donate something, they can.”