Burb's Eye View: Hoping to see neighbors' faces light up

The Christmas roller coaster at Nick and Carrie Nolan’s house was built with a lot of screws and a lot of headaches.

Such are the pains in the twinkling underworld of competitive holiday lighting displays, where the drive to create the most opulent explosion of electricity and holiday cheer is matched only by the desire to create a lawn spectacle that would rival Clark Griswold’s in “Christmas Vacation.”

Fitting, really, considering the fictional Griswold family home is on a Warner Bros. back lot in Burbank.

Every year, the city of Burbank hosts a contest for the best lighting displays at homes and businesses. This Thursday night beginning at 6 p.m., the city’s Civic Pride Committee will tour all the entries to learn which property’s lighting display has the most “emotional entwinement,” according to committee chairman Robert Vincent.

“These are the people that put their guts in it,” he said. “We go for creativity, best use of light display, if there’s animatronics and music.”

Since Vincent began with the committee 10 years ago, the number of entries has dwindled. As of Monday afternoon, the deadline day, 13 entries had registered compared to the roughly 90 when Vincent began judging.

The contest, he said, can get costly — lights always blow from one year to the next, and considering some entries’ lights number in the thousands.

“Every year, it’s gotten bigger and bigger … I come up with more and more,” said Carrie Nolan of her display at her home on Sparks Street.

She and her husband, Nick, won the residential category last year.

They live on Sparks at the corner of West Oak Street. You won’t need any more directions than this: Look for the “Macy’s Parade Rejects” and the roller coaster.

Using a system of ropes and pulleys and a motor, Nick Nolan has devised a system to take Santa and his elves through the coaster course and around the yard, passing by cotton candy machines and a vignette featuring the Claus family at a barbecue.

Though the judging isn’t until tomorrow night, the Nolans’ display has garnered buzz in the neighborhood. The 4,000 or so lights and several “stations” on the lawn have earned the attention of several families who have left the Nolans notes of thanks and ornaments for their tree.

“It’s getting around, I guess,” Carrie Nolan said. “We make people really happy, and we’re motivated by that.”

The real test of holiday spirit is the heart that’s put into it. Last year, Shane Roadnight won the youth category not because there was a huge animatronic display, or a million lights adorned his apartment building. He won because he used what his family had, and it was beautiful.

The roughly 10 judges who visit the contestants each year want to see the spirit that moves each of us during the holidays reflected in the displays.

“I want to see it and I want to smile,” Vincent said. “I want to go back to my youth and think my dad and I would have done something like that.”


BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter: @818NewGuy.

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