Justin Baldwin doesn’t have a lot of memories of his dad, who died of an aneurysm when the Mobile resident was 5 years old. He knows the stories people have told about his father and holds onto them like treasures from childhood, but a lot of other things are a bit cloudy.
“You think you remember a lot of things from your childhood and your dad,” he said. “What you remember are stories about him.”
One thing Baldwin remembers is his father’s love of Christmas lights. That’s something the two share; during every holiday season, Baldwin works to put lights on his house, too.
“I know I participated in putting lights on the house when I was a kid,” he said. “I started to put lights on my house in homage.”
Baldwin and his wife moved to Midtown Mobile in 2003 and by the “first or second” Christmas, he started the tradition of lighting the house. That tradition got more and more complex with each season.
“We started to grow it more and more,” Baldwin said.
When he switched from incandescent lights to LED, Baldwin added more strands to the house.
“LEDs don’t use as much energy,” he said. “You can connect them more easily and so I wanted to make it bright enough that my dad could see it from heaven.”
Baldwin has turned the lights into a full-fledged show now, with the help of a “plug-and-play” system called Light-O-Rama.
The big box with 16 outlets helps Baldwin coordinate the show to music. Those interested in driving by the show can listen to it by tuning into 88.1 FM.
Baldwin said the show will continue to get bigger each year, as he continues to add lights. He begins to hang them in early November. The Baldwin home is located at 2457 Mount Island Drive inMobile.
Miele House: Regency in Mobile
Growing up in New Orleans, Mark Miele always enjoyed driving around and looking at the Christmas lights with family. Remembering the fun, Miele would begin putting lights on his first house in Mobile and it grew from there when his family moved to the Regency neighborhood.
“We moved to West Mobile and had a little more space,” he said. “It grew from there.”
Now his display boasts 50,000 to 60,000 lights and a bunch of inflatables. In addition to lights on the house, Miele builds trees out of lights and PVC pipes. Those trees include two “mega” trees that are 15 feet tall.
“Most neighbors really like it,” he said. “We had a neighborhood event at the house that included hot chocolate, Santa pictures and candy canes. We had a really good time.”
The entire display takes Miele about 50 hours to put up and he does most of the work on weekends and weeknights.
“The goal is to get it up by Thanksgiving,” he said.
Miele has added to the display each year in the six or seven years since he started it.
Malone House: 201 Parkway Street W., Mobile
Dallas Malone lives by one mantra when it comes to Christmas lights: the more, the better. That’s why his house in Country Club Village in Mobile is adorned with more than 100,000 lights.
“I always enjoyed Christmas lights as a kid,” he said. “The neighborhood I grew up in off of Springhill Avenue went off for Christmas. At the time, no one else was doing anything like that. It is one of my best Christmas memories.”
Malone said he started the first year he and his wife had the house, 23 years ago. He started with 2,000 lights and it grew from there.
By the time Malone switched from incandescent bulbs to LEDs, he had amassed 30,000 lights.
“That was about all I could handle with the incandescent bulbs,” he said. “We changed over to LEDs. They are more energy efficient and so we put up more. We continued to add more and more.”
Last year was a big one for Malone, as he added more than 100,000 lights to the house. This year, the number stands at about 105,000. Malone has also been known to take vacation days from Mobile Infirmary to put up the lights. This year he took a full three weeks of paid time off to put his plan into action.
“I enjoy it,” he said of the lights. “The neighbors enjoy it. It makes people happy.”
It makes some people so happy that they are willing to give back, Malone said. He has received money, beer and other gifts left at his house; he credits the lights.
Sometimes, the gifts he receives are less tangible. About eight years ago, he was flagged down by a woman who had seen the lights after her parents had just died. She was depressed, Malone said. She told him the lights had made her smile for the first time in two months.
“It really shook me,” he said.
Rada House: 11151 Elysian Circle, Daphne
One look at the Rada house will have passersby convinced the family has attached a giant screen to the outside of one of the windows, but the illusion is made of lights.
Dalan Rada, who has a background in electrical engineering, said the screen-like object is a group of 24 rows of 50 lights each, strung together to make a low-resolution screen. The screen plays animation along to whatever music happens to be on at the time.
What originally began as a small light display on his house in Daphne has turned into a 30-minute light show set to Christmas tunes.
“It became a hobby and we’d work on it all year,” he said. “We’d budget an amount each year and my wife kept saying we should add stuff and it kind of grew from there.”
The show is inspired by a fellow Christmas light fan in California, who posted his shows on YouTube, Rada said. The 30-minute show includes 10 songs sequenced to the lights. Two of those were borrowed from the man in California, Rada said, while he sequenced the other eight himself.
The sequencing requires putting the lights in patterns and connecting controller boxes to each set. Putting the show together can be a tall order. Rada said he and his wife spend more than 150 hours installing the lights and sequencing the music.
The work culminates in the unveiling of the show, which usually takes place the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Rada said.
Some lights stay on the house permanently. Rada built special metal awnings and drilled lights into them above the house’s soffit. The metal pieces can be removed, he said, but they don’t have to be.
The shows have a schedule so the lights go off at a reasonable time of night, Rada said. On weeknights, Sunday to Thursday, the show runs on a loop 5:30-8:30 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, Rada lets the show go until 10:30 p.m.
“The traffic hasn’t been too bad,” he said. “People trickle in and out.”
Vander Wal House: 9544 Woolrich Ave, Fairhope
For Michigan native Luke Vander Wal, the competitive streak was too much to ignore. The Mobile firefighter bought a bunch of lights when he and his wife moved into their neighborhood in Fairhope. Vander Wal later found out about the Hollow Brook subdivision’s Christmas light contest and never looked back.
“I’ve won the neighborhood competition three times, including last year,” he said.
Vander Wal’s display includes about 20,000 lights, including a couple of trees and a walkway covering the sidewalk.
He said he has several spools of lights left over and is to the point now where he doesn’t know where to add them at the house. His co-workers at Fire Station 28 in Theodore want him to decorate the station.
“The guys want me to do the station,” he said. “I don’t know if I have enough lights.”
Fort Toulouse Court, Sehoy subdivision, Daphne
David Carter came home from work one evening and a 30-foot Christmas-themed inflatable greeted him on his front lawn in Daphne. Carter had heard his Toulouse Court neighbors talk about the annual tradition, but he didn’t take it seriously.
“I thought they were joking,” he said. “Then the Monday afternoon after Thanksgiving, they put it up.”
Tony and Sandy Crawford also participate each year. The spectacle brings crowds to the neighborhood, as a show including some lights and music starts at 5 p.m. every night.
“Traffic gets very heavy,” Tony Crawford said. “It’s bumper to bumper clear out to (County Road) 13.”
Despite the traffic, the Crawfords enjoy the tradition.
“We get a big kick out of them,” Sandy Crawford said. “We think it’s a fun thing to do.”
Chris Thompson, co-owner of Eastern Shore Inflatables, started the tradition when he purchased a Santa inflatable to rent to a local business nine years ago.
“We put Santa in front of our house and people started driving by,” he said. “We then bought Rudolph and Frosty.”
It has grown from there and the Thompsons have enough inflatables for all their neighbors on Fort Toulouse Court. In addition to the ones mentioned, the inflatables include the Grinch, a nutcracker, a Christmas tree, Snoopy, the abominable snowman, Elf on the Shelf and a polar bear.
Lights on Landing: 459 and 467 Landing Drive, Satsuma
Dustin Hayes began putting lights on his own house in West Mobile about 12 years ago. Six years later he graduated to putting a synchronized light show on his mom’s house on Landing Drive and some neighbors have joined him.
The shows at the Hayes’ house have grown to include more than 100,000 lights and now a group, which includes neighbors, give updates on the show through a Facebook page called “Lights on Landing.”
Like many of the enthusiasts on the list, Hayes’ shows grow in the volume of lights each year. The display includes three trees made up of over 3,000 lights each.
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