No hiding holiday spirit: Western Pa. homeowners light up the holidays

Bobby Cherry
| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Brandon Reilly wants to make sure drivers can see his Ross home from busy McKnight Road this holiday season.

His festive dwelling showcases plenty of lights, a blinking train, plastic nativity scene, more than 1,600 lights on one tree and a moving animated picture scene projecting onto the garage.

The picture display was a last-minute change to Reilly's display, which had been anchored by a 25-foot-tall snowman.

“It actually goes above the top of the peak of my house,” Reilly, 31, said of the snowman. “It's pretty impressive.”

A wind storm snapped the snowman beyond repair, Reilly said.

But in the event Santa needs a little help landing on Christmas Eve, a large “reindeer crossing” sign — complete with a custom-built frame structure to make it bigger — sits atop Reilly's roof.

“It wasn't quite bright enough, so I had to put a spotlight up there so you could see it,” he said.

Reilly's display is one of many lighting up dark nights throughout the month. The average consumer will spend about $75 on holiday decorations — up about $20 over the last decade, according to the National Retail Federation.

In Nedra Tucceri's Woodland Ridge neighborhood in Moon, nearly all of the roughly 150 homeowners participate in an annual Light Up Night celebration, which includes an outdoor decorating contest and streets lined with luminarias. This year's event is planned for Dec. 15, when residents encourage visitors to drive through their neighborhood looking at lights and displays.

“It's just a wonderful community night,” said Tucceri, who has been participating in the event since it began in 1989.

“The best part is Santa coming in on a big blue fire truck,” she said. “The kids just wait and wait for him.”

Organizer Denise Imbrogno begins planning for the annual event in the fall.

“It just catches on,” she said. “People don't want to not participate. It encourages people to decorate a little more because we have the Light Up Night (event) and it's a showcase for the neighborhood.”

Tucceri said she used to decorate when her children were younger, but she now is ‘resigned in the decision of not being out there in the cold'.”

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 a few minutes north of Sewickley 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.”

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.

With about 140 clients this year, Frankel 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 Frankel's 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.”

For Reilly, whose Ross home resembles something out of “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation,” decorating for Christmas is part of a family tradition, he said.

“The holidays are a big deal. Christmas is always more about the anticipation of the holiday and what it means — family and togetherness. So going all out and spending a month and a half planning and decorating helps to build that anticipation and excitement.”

Reilly said he's known in his neighborhood as the guy with the giant snowman.

“They love it,” he said. “I add a little more every year.

“I'm getting closer and closer to a Clark Griswold status.”

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or

Dona Dreeland, a reporter for Trib Total Media, contributed to this report. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or

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