Westerville News & Public Opinion

30,000 lights brighten Hilyard's holiday

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Rick Hilyard is seen in front of his home at 649 Old Coach Road which features 30,000 lights. The house is lighted 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 6 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The Hilyards encourage those who enjoy the light display to place a food donations for the Westerville Area Resource Ministry in the box in front of their home.

For Rick Hilyard, Christmas is a yearlong obsession.

At least, his Christmas-lights display is.

The Annehurst Village resident has strung up 30,000 lights, connected with a half-mile of extension cords. The lights flash, twinkle and dim to 11 different Christmas songs, broadcast over a radio station from Hilyard's house.

"Everyone thinks, 'When do you put all this stuff up?' but it doesn't take that long," Hilyard said.

"The hardest part is synchronizing the lights (to the music). That takes all year, whenever you have a free moment.

"Every one-hundredth of a minute, you have to tell the lights what to do: to glitter, to dim."

Hilyard, who moved to Westerville in October with his wife, Julie, and 4-year-old daughter, Cate, began putting up extravagant Christmas light displays five years ago.

He had always put up elaborate Halloween decorations, and his wife prompted him to do the same at Christmas, he said.

"She didn't give me any rules," Hilyard said. "I've always wanted to do, it, always admired people who do it."

Hilyard bought a kit to broadcast music over an FM station in his home to coordinate with the flashing Christmas lights.

He launched a website, dazzlingchristmaslights.com, to encourage people to stop by and watch the display.

He began attending a national conference each year in Tennessee, where he's learned tricks of the Christmas-lighting trade, such as using upside down tomato cages wrapped in strands of lights to make mini Christmas trees.

"Next year, I'm going to do the arches," Hilyard said. "Every year, you do more. You buy more; you wait until they go on sale."

Each year, Hilyard said, he's purchased more decorations and added new elements. He said tries to work new songs into the station because he gets tired of seeing the same patterns blinking outside his windows.

This year, Hilyard created a large Christmas tree in the middle of his yard from a pole and strands of lights. He said that element is his favorite because it offers a lot of options in coordinating with the music.

A favorite of neighborhood children, however, has been a life-like projection of Santa Claus in a second-story window of Hilyard's home. Santa appears to eat cookies, check his list, walk around and come to the window to wave at passersby.

"That's the No. 1 hit for most of the kids," Hilyard said. "I've had kids knocking on the door asking to see Santa."

Hilyard said the decorations have been a hit in the neighborhood, with a teacher at nearby Annehurst Elementary encouraging people to see the display and residents of Hilyard's former Polaris neighborhood driving by to have a look.

"Every neighbor loves it. At least, that's what they tell me," Hilyard said. "They said they've noticed a lot more people putting up lights in the neighborhood. It's contagious. Except for my next-door neighbor: He said I have enough."

Hilyard, a photographer by trade, said he relishes his lights display and plans to keep expanding each year.

"The only time it would stop is if we can't get enough electricity," Hilyard said. "The sad thing is I don't even think 30,000 lights looks like a lot."