Do the Light Thing : Elaborate Displays Are a Huntington Harbour Tradition

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George Higue has spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in the past 15 years to deck out his waterfront home for the Huntington Harbour Philharmonic Committee's annual Cruise of Lights.

Higue, 80, a dentist who practices one day a week, said stringing thousands of colored lights and creating elaborate yuletide decor takes him at least eight days and results in a $400 increase on his December electric bill. His normal bill, he said, is about $125 month.

But Higue scoffs at the cost and considers it a donation to charity.

"We decorate primarily for the Philharmonic," Higue said. "If people didn't decorate their homes, the fund-raiser wouldn't be there."

The 33-year-old Cruise of Lights event typically raises more than $100,000 for music programs in Orange County schools.

Higue said he has invested more than $5,000 in decorations and has added 16 outlets and four circuit breakers to handle the extra electrical load. He also hired a handyman to help him.

"It's nice to see the lights. It just makes you feel good," said his wife, Mary.

Higue is not alone in lighting up his home. Hundreds of resident decorate their homes for the event, said Judith Ivey, chairman of the Huntington Harbour Philharmonic Committee.

"I don't think they'd all do it if it wasn't for charity," Ivey said.

Ivey said residents participate in decorating their homes--as well as their boats for tonight's and Sunday night's boat parade--because the Philharmonic is a different kind of charity.

"This is something that uplifts the spirit," she said.

Joanne Fernbach is among residents who has participated in decorating her home.

Fernbach said when her family moved to Huntington Harbour nine years ago, a neighbor told her: "When you move in here, you have to decorate your home for Christmas."

Her cape cod on Humboldt Island is lighted with about 3,000 white lights and the three balconies are adorned with garland intertwined with mini-white lights. On the middle balcony, four wooden carolers stand next to an old-fashioned street light.

Fernbach, whose home won the award this year for "most traditional" decor, said each year she spends an additional $200 on decorations. She said her electricity bill also increases by about 30%, declining to give an exact figure.

"I do it because of the Cruise of Lights. I wouldn't go through the effort if it weren't for the cruise," she said. "The public pays to come in here to see elaborate lights and displays and you want to give them the best show you can."

This year, Higue estimates that he is using more than 3,000 lights to decorate his Admiralty Island home. The lights are strung from the dock to 10-foot Christmas trees on each side 98-foot-long deck and stretch up to the roof.

Lights are used to outline the roof, to form Christmas trees and to create luminescent wreaths. A lighted star tops the chimney, and more lights spell out "Joy to the World" and "Season's Greetings."

Higue's 50-foot sportfishing boat, named "100%," docked at his house, is also covered with hundreds of bulbs.

Every year since 1980, Higue has won an award from the Philharmonic Committee for his artistry. In 1983, he received the group's sweepstakes trophy for his Olympic-themed display of the Olympic, U.S and California flags and Christmas lights to form red, white and blue stars.

This year, Higue's display was chosen as the "best tribute" to the holiday season.

Ivey said that the Cruise of Lights "wouldn't have survived this long" if they didn't have the support of residents such as Higue.

Higue said he continues his holiday custom not only to help the Philharmonic but also for the feeling of community spirit and sense of accomplishment.

"I always think my lights are pretty good--tops," he said. "Then I see all the [other] beautifully decorated homes, and they impress me. I realize I'm just part of a great big team."

The 33rd annual Cruise of Lights, a narrated boat tour of decorated Huntington Harbour homes, begins Wednesday and continues through Dec. 21.

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