Light the night: House decorating finalists create winter wonderlands

Lance Shearer

There are a lot of activities people won’t be doing this holiday season, involving being around other people. One thing Marco Islanders can do is tour around and see the amazing, elaborate Christmas light displays on island homes. Many residents have turned their properties into winter wonderlands, with tens of thousands of lights, dozens of three-dimensional figures, and a serious work ethic.

To save islanders from randomly driving around, the Christmas House Decorating Committee drove every street on the island, found the “best and brightest” lightshows, and chose their top ten. On Friday evening, the committee boarded an (open-air) trolley, with banners reading “Here Comes the Judge” for those old enough to remember Flip Wilson’s variety show and toured each entrant to pick an overall winner for 2020.

They’ve been doing this for 27 years, but never before has there been such a need for the “electric” jolt of socially distanced Christmas spirit that the decorating contest provides. Dave Rice, who created the Christmas Decorating contest and along with his Jeannie has run it ever since, said that this year, more people have “decked the halls” with lights, perhaps in lieu of other outlets for Christmas cheer.

“We count all the homes. There are 1,861 who decorated this year, up about 100 from last Christmas,” said Rice. “With all the people who decorate, and those who go and view the homes, this is one of the largest number of people doing anything on Marco Island. People can drive around, be safe in their own car, and have a little entertainment.”

The judges met Friday evening at Iberia Bank before heading out to view the lights. Several pairs of groups of judges followed socially distanced in their own vehicles, communicating by cell phone with the trolley to make their votes known.

It would be possible to have judges fill out sheets, rating each entry for originality, use of color, cohesive theme or perhaps total wattage, but the Christmas light judges took a more basic approach, basing their decisions on gut instinct and consulting one another after seeing each entry whether they had a new winner.

If total kilowatt/hours burned were the criterion for winning, it would have made sense, as the lead sponsor for the evening was Lee County Electric Cooperative. The utility’s public relations manager Karen Ryan came along for the ride on the trolley, along with LCEC community representative Tricia Dorn. Co-sponsor Iberia Bank donated a $100 spirit award and swag bags for all the judges.

As the trolley navigated the residential streets, a caravan of over two dozen cars followed behind, filled with more people wanting to view Christmas lighting at its most over the top. For these homes, no detail was left unlit, with manger scenes, elves, reindeer, snowmen, Snoopy, Yoda, “minions,” Grinches, inflatables of every description, netting of lights covering the roof, trees turned into fireworks, and balloons, candy canes, Santa and his sleigh on top of the roof, and lights covering lawns, shrubs and driveways, all the way out to the street.

The winning home, Joseph and Therese Giannone’s residence at 151 Channel Court, was a light show with probably hundreds of thousands of lights, Christmas trees made up of smaller stacked trees, and signage recommending where viewers could drive to get the “big picture.” Tucked among their decorations was the sign from when they won it all once before, in 2012. Along with one other entry, they had a low-power FM radio transmitter, and instructions on what frequency to tune in to get their holiday message.

Another home gave the vibe of a high-tech casino, or video game, with all lights programmed to switch colors simultaneously. At one entrant, with seemingly every square foot of the lot illuminated, judge Diane Honecker said, “I wanted to tell them they missed a spot” – but in truth, they hadn’t.

There was also a contest for businesses, won by Keller-Williams Realty at 830 Bald Eagle Drive.

If you want to follow the judges’ route, and make your own personal choice of best illuminated home, without dealing with dozens of other cars in a parade, here are the addresses of the finalists, plus honorable mentions and previous winners, not eligible for competition for five years after winning but still all lit up.

More:Reverse parade: Christmas Island Style event has spectators driving by the floats

Top 10 finalists for 2020 

Not ranked, but this was the judges’ route for the finalists:

  • 1453 Bermuda
  • 371 Yarmouth
  • 1591 Galleon
  • 1625 Ludlow
  • 780 Copeland
  • 975 Leo Court
  • 1842 Dogwood
  • 1955 Sheffield
  • 151 Channel Court – Winner

1208 Fruitland

Also worth seeing

  • 1952 Sheffield
  • 1572 Shores Court
  • 812 Newell Terrace

Previous winners “Lit” in 2020 (not eligible to win this year)

  • 1264 Whiteheart
  • 865 Swan
  • 161 Bermuda
  • 513 Nassau

Business finalists

  • Center for the Arts      
  • Sand Bar
  • Keller Williams Realty
  • Snook Inn
  • Worth seeing      
  • Walkers Marine
  • Cape Marco
  • Les Falls  
  • Sammies