No hiding holiday spirit: Western Pa. homeowners light up the holidays
By Kyle Lawson and Bobby Cherry
Published: Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, 12:27 p.m.
Monroeville resident Len Young has one piece of advice for Christmas Light enthusiasts headed to Edgemead Drive this season.
“Take your sunglasses with you. You might need them.”
Young was one of seven parks and recreation committee members who judged the 2013 Monroeville Holiday Lights Contest. The grand prize winners this year were Peter and Carol Colangelo, of Edgemead Drive, who covered nearly every inch of their home in shimmering, blinking holiday spirit. The front yard. The back yard. The top of the roof.
The tree in the front yard alone took about 10 hours to complete, Peter Colangelo said.
Colangelo, 76, said he found the time to decorate for competition after he retired about five years ago and moved from Mechanicsburg to Monroeville.
“I just enjoy Christmas and seeing the kids enjoy the lights,” he said. “I started in October, getting ready, testing all the decorations and extension cords.”
The couple earned a 2011 regional victory for a WTAE contest and in 2010 were voted the best in their ward by Monroeville officials.
The average consumer will spend about $75 on holiday decorations — up about $20 over the last decade, according to the National Retail Federation.
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For the last seven years, Beth Frankel's Richland-based E.L.F. Entertainment company has helped keep the holidays bright with an outdoor decorating business.
“We do everything from lighting and windows to bushes and trees, garland and wreaths, ribbons on light posts (and) swags,” Frankel said of her Christmas Decor franchise.
Frankel — who has about 140 clients this year — said the business has grown every year. She attributes the increase to a growing senior citizen population and busier lifestyles.
“It's a matter of not physically being able to do it,” she said, adding that some clients tell her they want to decorate but cannot do so on their own. “Others want to, but can't find the time.”
Lights are cut to specific measurements of roof lines and around windows and stored off site when the season ends, Frankel said.
A perk of owning a Christmas decorating business is having her own home serve as a site to train employees in October, she said.
“At Halloween, the children say, ‘Hey lady, it's Halloween, not Christmas,'” she said. “I tell them my house is in costume.”
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The number of Monroeville homes decorated with for the municipal lights contest was down from last year, maybe because of the unusually frigid temperatures, Young said. Though that wasn't the case this year in Moon township, where nearly all of the roughly 150 homeowners participated in an annual Light Up Night celebration that included an outdoor decorating contest and streets lined with luminaria. Residents encouraged visitors to drive through their neighborhood to see the displays.
“It's just a wonderful community night,” said Nedra Tucceri, who has participated in the event since it began in 1989.
In Whitehall, a borough-wide decorating contest has happened for more than 20 years, Councilwoman Kathy DePuy said.
Awards are offered to homeowners that a small group of judges select each year, she said.
“There's no way to judge which house is the best,” DePuy said. “It's definitely an opinion.”
Categories change each year and aren't set — some years, judges have offered awards for best trees, best displays and brightest lights, she said.
“Whatever strikes our fancy,” DePuy said, adding that no cash awards or items are given to winners.
In most cases, decorators aren't notified they've been nominated.
“Most nominations come because we have our little elves out there checking,” DePuy said.
She estimates about 2,000 homes in the borough of about 6,000 residences put some kind of lighted decoration outside during the holidays.
At 72, DePuy said she can't decorate as much as she'd like to, but now enjoys helping to judge the displays.
“I've always liked to decorate,” she said. “It brightens our spirit to have lights. It gets dark so early. There's so many hours of darkness. Lights just light up the world.”
Similar decorating contests are held in Leetsdale and Dormont.
Last year, about 20 homeowners participated in Dormont's first competition, Recreation Director Kristin Hullihen said.
In addition to more homeowners, Hullihen said she's hoping more business owners in the borough's shopping district of West Liberty Avenue and Potomac Avenue participate.
“We want to get the community involved and make it look nice,” she said.
Hullihen said she enjoys being part of the team who judges displays.
“You get to go and see how much time and energy people put into the displays,” she said.
Mary Kay Dschuhan has helped judge Leetsdale's contest and will do so again this year, she said.
Leetsdale residents aren't aware they're nominated until judges from the borough's garden club knock on their door telling them they've won, she said.
The tiny borough has varying styles of decor, Dschuhan said.
“Some go all out, and those are the eye-catching ones,” she said.
Dschuhan said she and others enjoy decorating because it is a reminder of being a child.
“It means Christmas,” she said. “No matter what our age, that was the joy — getting the Christmas tree up and the lights in the windows.
“We have a lot of people who decorate who are in their 60s and they still have the joy of decorating.
“No matter how old you are, it's fun.”
Judging holiday decorations in Monroeville is something Young said he looks forward to every year.
“Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or email@example.com.
Dona Dreeland, a reporter for Trib Total Media, contributed to this report. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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