By Bretagné Savage (December 2013)
Photographed by Karen Pearson
For most people, winding down of every year is a chaotic mix of holiday cheer, shopping madness, & family time. For Tim & Grace Gay and their children Emily, Daniel, and John, this combination is taken to the next level. Inspired by his mother who made Christmas time magical for him and his siblings, Tim wanted to create something that would bring the same focus on light, love, and family to his own children. Now in its eleventh year, ERDAJT’s Christmas Light Display (named for the initials of his children) has grown beyond simply a family tradition and is now recognized, as Tim has said, as “a vehicle to help people in the community.”
The light display is a perfect example of the karmic circle of doing good deeds for the sheer purpose of creating positive energy and helping others, hoping only those positive powers will come back. The Gay family’s willingness to put on a fantastic show to honor the holiday spirit of Tim’s mother has drawn support from the Town of Union Vale, its local fire department, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, the Poughkeepsie Children’s Home, and local radio station K104. Although frequently offered donations by visitors, Tim refuses them all and instead directs any monetary support to the Union Vale Fire Department. Last year, the donations collected reached $36,835.
That’s no small amount, and it has all gone to help in big ways. Two families in Dover and LaGrange who had lost their homes to fires were each given one thousand dollars. Four people with cancer (one a firefighter) in Wassaic, Washington, and Union Vale each received one thousand dollars to help pay for treatments. One young woman totaled her car in a terrible accident and, without the money to buy a new one, received five hundred dollars to help with the cost. With funding from the Gay family local firefighters built a “smokehouse,” a simulation of a burning house to educate children about escaping and surviving a house fire. Funds were sent to buy generators for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Amazingly, over $12,500 that was raised in one single night was sent to families affected by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.
You may be asking yourself what kind of light display could possibly warrant such an outpouring of donations. Consider this: in 2012, the Gay family set the Guinness World Record for most lights on a residential property: 346,283, to be exact. This year, including strobe lights, that number is estimated to be three hundred and ninety one thousand. Completely filling the front yard are numerous individual light fixtures: multi-colored Christmas trees, giant blinking hearts, dangling stars, rollercoaster-like loops, an enormous rainbow, tree trunks with leaping lights soaring from bottom to top, several sparkling deer, an electrified bridge and fence… the entire scene is truly stunning.
And it doesn’t end there. Every light is choreographed to go on and off with a playlist of over one hundred and ninety songs. A combination of holiday and popular tunes, the music is paused regularly by an introduction from Tim’s daughter Emily, welcoming guests to the display. A huge U2 fan, Tim says his favorite light and music combination was inspired by the song “City of Blinding Lights,” written and performed by the band to honor those lost on September 11th. Guests of the show can set their car radio to 95.3 fm to receive the transmission directly from the family’s home computer.
The display has become more than the average family tradition, not only in its renown and size, but in how it serves as an educational tool for the children. Both Grace and Tim have backgrounds in engineering, which have been useful for creating a display of this size. Grace calls it “a giant puzzle that lasts months; the kids learn to plan for everything and understand that to accomplish something, you have to have the end in mind.” Project management skills are definitely being developed with all that goes into the display. The kids learn teamwork and how to delegate and share duties. Math and engineering skills are used to calculate how much weight can be supported and how much electricity can run so that circuits aren’t blown. Choreographing and arranging the order of songs develop artistic skills. Ultimately, the family just has fun and makes the project a time that will be remembered by everyone involved.
Every year, the display is ready for visitors the day after Thanksgiving. This year, the family got an early start in order to prepare for a reality show; The Learning Channel is spotlighting four families all over America who set up grand displays for the holidays. In order to qualify for the show, the family recorded a short casting video. In it, they included a taping that Emily made the previous year of all the cars lined up to see the display. In all, the line went on for four miles in two directions, which surprised even the family. One would think the traffic bothers the neighbors, but Tim and Grace both say they are blessed with good people all around, and enjoy it when the neighbors stop by during the display to chat and share some hot drinks. In order to receive, you must be willing to give, and the Gay family has accomplished this by putting the time and energy into creating a truly magical holiday display for everyone in the Hudson Valley to enjoy.
Getting There: Fire up your GPS! The ERDAJT Christmas Light Display is at 8 Patrick Drive in Lagrangeville, NY.
More information, as well as audio/video, is available at ERDAJT.com. █