Howard County Times
Howard County

For Ellicott City family, tuneful light display is labor of love and civic pride

"Awesome" was the overwhelming consensus of people who gathered in front of Angie and Bryan Bartlett's house in Ellicott City on a cold night this past week.

With almost 20,000 lights flashing to the beat of 38 songs, the house and yard were jumping with images.


"It's insane. I've never seen something so awesome," said Lillie Kane, 11, as she watched the show.

Lillie's mom, Ladonna Kane, thought the Bartletts' holiday display must be a dream come true, or at least the passion of its creator.


"I think this man is living out his dream, and I'm secretly jealous," said Kane, who has watched the display on Red Hill Way grow over the years.

"We call this the 'Griswold house,'" she laughed, referring to the holiday movie, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." "I think we all wished we lived here."

Though the Bartletts have lived in the neighborhood for 11 years, they only began going "all out" for the holidays over the past four years. The added music for the first time in 2012.

"I have two kids, Bryson, 8, and Brynn, 5," Bryan Bartlett said. "I just wanted to do something with them. I tend to go overboard with stuff. This is obviously one of those things."

"It's a really fun family experience," Angie Bartlett said. "Each one of our children has a special part in it."

Creating the display is actually a yearlong family project, from selecting the tunes to building the props.

"We pick popular songs throughout the year; usually it's the songs my kids like, especially my daughter," Bryan said. He spent 100 hours selecting and programming the music, including his daughter's favorites, Katy Perry's "Roar" and Ylvis' "The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)," as well as classic rock 'n' roll tunes, movie themes and Christmas songs.

Bryan also spends the year creating new items for the display.


"Most of the stuff I make myself … all the stars, poles, trees," he said. He also built a bench so people can stop, sit and watch the display.

The project kicks into high gear in September.

"I help get stuff out of the attic," Bryson said with pride, so the family can start putting up the lights. This year, about 6,000 new lights were added.

For the first lighting of the season, the family hosts a neighborhood party the day after Thanksgiving. About 150 people attended this year, the family estimates.

"It really is more of a community type of event. We get to meet a lot of different people," Bryan said. "Everybody is supportive and likes it."

On weekends, the Bartlett family will pop popcorn for people, and during the week they keep the candy cane tree full and the sidewalks clear of snow and ice. A basket is out for donations.


"Our goal is to recoup 75 percent of the cost with donations," Bryan said. "We spend thousands of dollars. Every little bit helps."

The family is hoping to expand the philanthropic aspect of the display this coming Friday, Dec. 20, Brownie Troop 4880 will set up a stand and sell Girl Scout cookies in the yard.

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"We just kind of came up with the crazy idea," said Kyra Hall, cookie mom for the Brownie troop. "I think it will be a lot of fun. I think the girls will enjoy standing out there."

No matter the temperature, the Brownies will sell cookies from 6 to 8 p.m. "We thought that would be a good time to be out there," Hall said. "The Bartletts have a big heat lamp we can use."

Hall said she lives not far from the Bartletts, and their children go to the same school — Waverly Elementary. Hall said her youngsters enjoy seeing the lights.

"I'm not allowed to go the 'usual way' home to my house," Hall said. "I have to go down Brynn and Bryce's way."


The display is the constant source of people slowing down through the neighborhood to watch and listen, and the family has started a YouTube channel as well, featuring some of the most popular tunes.

"I think it is awesome," said Heather Mathers, as she watched with her family along the road this past week on a night with snow covering the ground. "I thought I was inspired with a line of icicles up and a line of running lights."

The Bartletts' holiday light display continues daily through Jan. 9, and usually operates from 5:15 to 11 p.m. each evening, at 4802 Red Hill Way, Ellicott City.