More is more – House decorating contest celebrates ‘over the top’ lightshows

Lance Shearer

The Marco Island Christmas Decorating Contest committee has gotten choosing the winners down to a science – but it’s not an exact science. Dave and Jeanne Rice have been doing this for 29 years, and with the help of their fellow judges, every street on the island has judges driving down it to spot the top contestants.

They’re not hard to spot. The committee eschews the “less is more” principle, opting instead for “more is more,” with the winning entries needing to seemingly visible from outer space to have a chance at taking home the Traveling Cup and permanent winner’s yard sign. One contestant bemoaned that rain shortly before the judges’ arrival had knocked out some of the carpet of electric lights that covered his front lawn, lowering the overall candlepower. Judges were sympathetic, but unrelenting – the home had no chance.

The winner, Tim and Chenoah Hager’s house at 1955 Sheffield Avenue, had dozens of illuminated snowmen, bears, nutcrackers and Santas carpeting the lawn, more stacked up next to them, as well as lights spread out over the roof, the lawn, wrapping around the posts on the porch, and in all the visible windows.

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After the subcommittees of judges divided Marco Island into nine zones, found the “best and brightest” lightshows, and chose their top ten, on Friday evening, the entire committee boarded an (open-air) trolley after a few libations and headed out to pick a winner.

They toured the island in a route designed to visit as many contestants as possible with the fewest left turns, carefully crafted by Jeannie Rice for the ease of the trolley and its caravan of trailing autos. After seeing all the entries, the consensus was to award top honors to the Hagers, and the committee returned to make the presentation.

Unlike many of the entrants, the Hagers have three small girls, who were thrilled to hoist the trophy. Fiona, 8, called out “we won! We won!” while Anya, 5, and Penelope, 3, just beamed. Tim, their dad, said the number one question he gets asked is “where do you store all this stuff?” for the rest of the year, and the answer is “anywhere we can.”

Almost directly across the street is another of the top ten finalists, at 1952 Sheffield, whose home was (almost) equally over the top. And right next to the winning entry, and across the street from the other lollapalooza, was another home, with lovely, restrained all-white lighting, which will never be considered as potential contest winners.

Tim Hager said they started putting their decorations up Nov. 1 and will leave them in place until after January 1. Taking them down in the new year, he allowed, is “not as much fun – but we’re so excited to win.”

For the next five years, they are ineligible to repeat as winners, but past winners typically continue to decorate and set their electric meters spinning. Why not? They’ve got all the lights and extension cords already.

The business category was won by Kay’s on the Beach at 1089 Bald Eagle Dr.

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2022 Top 10 finalists 

Here is a list of the top 10 homes, in the order the trolley visited them, along with “also worth seeing” honorable mentions, and the past five years’ winners:

  • 161 Bermuda
  • 1453 Bermuda
  • 1591 Galleon
  • 371 Yarmouth
  • 1625 Ludlow
  • 1842 Dogwood
  • 1952 Sheffield
  • 1955 Sheffield
  • 920 Ruby Court
  • 1208 Fruitland
  • Also worth seeing
  • 975 Leo Court
  • 752 Caribbean
  • 798 Caribbean
  • 91 Bermuda
  • 1232 Fruitland
  • 1558 Barfield Ct.
  • 1430 Caxambas Ct.
  • 1440 Caxambas Ct.
  • 1495 Caxambas Ct.

Previous winners “lit” in 2022 (not eligible this year)

  • 151 Channel Ct.
  • 1264 Whiteheart
  • 865 Swan
  • 513 Nassau
  • 1572 Shores Ct.

2022 judges

Co-Chairpersons, Dave and Jeanne Rice, Treasurer Bob Boland, Lyn Bedell, Carla and Mike Mickes, Larry and Judy Sacher, Ken and Diane Honecker; Jerry Swiacki and Linda Turner, Bette McGilvray and Steve Josselyn, Sandy Dauch, Kristina Lambros and Marc Creech, Debbie and Marty Roddy, Mary Vertin and Bruce Robertson, Jacki Strategos and Richard Droste, Betty Newman and Russ Simmons, Lauri Kalanges, Rachel Schenk, Lilibeth Nordell, and Mindy Star.