Massive holiday light display becomes symbol of a dad’s love

For our series American Wonders, we’re exploring places that make America wonderful, from majestic natural landscapes to spectacular manmade creations. In this installment, we visited the ERDAJT Holiday Light Display in Lagrangeville, New York.

For the Gay family, the most wonderful time of the year starts early. Every weekend starting in September, Tim, Grace and their adult children Emily, Daniel and John get to work on their family lights display.

“My daughter’s crazy. She drives from Rochester to here every weekend,” Tim told CBS News’ Jamie Wax. “That’s a 10-hour round trip. They picked colleges that were nearby because they knew if they went too far away to school, they wouldn’t be able to come back and do this.”

To be fair, this isn’t any old holiday lights display. The ERDAJT Holiday Light Display, which are the initials of the three kids – Emily Raejean, Daniel Arthur and John Timonthy – is the Guinness World Record holding lights display for the most lights on a residential property.

The Gay family captured the title with 601,736 lights in 2014.

CBS News

“We did not imagine this. It was not a goal,” Grace said laughing. “It just kind of happened.”

Inspired by his mother’s love of Christmas, Tim started putting up lights when his daughter Emily was born 24 years ago. It started with two trees in the front of the house.

“That’s how simple it started, was birth of a child: ‘Oh, gosh, gotta start puttin’ lights out,'” Tim said. “It was definitely motivated by that sense of wonder that I think we all feel about life. And I just wanted that to be part of my children’s upbringing.”

Today the kids do much of the heavy lifting, contributing their own unique talents. Daniel has become something of a lead designer, with a big ornament hanging over their pond.

“That’s not the first thing I designed for the display, but it’s the biggest, most complicated thing,” Daniel said. 

ctm-1220-holiday-lights-2.jpg CBS News

John’s climbing ability has helped bring the display to new heights.

“One day it hit us that we could put the lights really high and it would look pretty cool,” John said.
Emily has become the voice of the show, and the display goes live the day after Thanksgiving. This year it features 641,695 lights choreographed to 252 songs. But the number the family is the proudest of is $365,781 – the amount of money their efforts have raised for local charities, with more rolling in each night.

“Do you ever think that this is a giant ‘I love you’ to you from your father?” Wax asked.

“I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is my dad’s love to us and the family projected immensely,” Emily said.  

This display takes thousands of man-hours to put up, but the Gay family said they take it all down in just a couple of days after Christmas.

If you’re wondering how high their electric bill must be, thanks largely to LED lights, it’s only $350 a season.

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