Bill Vaughan takes off the month of November to decorate his house in the Fort Hunt area south of Alexandria, Virginia. Each year he adds something new. (Holly Zell)

Every year, the holiday spirit comes alive as people display their Christmas lights. Over time, homeowners have taken their love of seasonal decorating to the extreme. Bill Vaughan, 63, of Fort Hunt, Virginia, has been decorating his house every fall for the past 26 years. This year, Vaughan is putting his Christmas light experience to the test by competing in a reality show.

ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight” will feature Vaughan’s home, south of Alexandria, as he competes against other brightly decorated homes across the nation. The winner will get $50,000. Vaughan takes November off work every year to focus entirely on setting up his Christmas light installation. Last year, he put in about 350 hours of work.

“I pretty much do everything myself,” Vaughan says of his family’s tradition. “I try to get them involved, but I am so particular about how I put my lights.”

Vaughan uses a welder and wire frames to build his own decorations such as deer, cardinals and shooting stars. Computer programs help him animate animals and objects to music and move or hop around the lawn.


Vaughan and his wife, Jan, with ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight” host Taniya Nayak. The Vaughns’ house will be featured on the November 26 episode of the show. (Bill Vaughan)

The same lights and animals are used each year, but he makes sure there is something new to see when people visit his display. Vaughan plans on using 400,000 lights this year, the most he has ever used.

Vaughan’s over-the-top displays started 18 years ago, when a volunteer from the nursing home across the street approached him. She got emotional in explaining how much it delighted the residents. She mentioned one resident in particular who wanted to thank Vaughan for the joy his home brought her before she passed.

The lights also got the attention of Holly Zell, a blogger who has been tracking and listing light displays on ­Washington-area homes for the past 21 years.

“He is my personal favorite. It is so incredible, his imagination, and it shows in the display and layout,” Zell says.

Before the lightbulb was invented, people would show their holiday spirit by putting up candles around their home or Christmas tree. In the 1880s, Thomas Edison and his partner Edward Johnson created electrical lights on wires that could be strung around a tree. Years later, markets sold holiday lights for people to use in or outside their homes.

Thinking of turning your home into a beautiful bright display?

“Don’t take on too much at one time,” Vaughan says. “Just start out small and work your way up.”

With a parent, you can create your own handmade lawn decoration. Vaughan recommends taking a piece of plywood and sketching a snowman or anything you would like. Drill holes around the edges and then paint. Strings of colored lights can go in and out of the drilled holes.

You can watch Vaughan compete on “The Great Christmas Light Fight” November 26 on ABC. You can also check out his display at 1601 Collingwood Road beginning December 1. He plans on dedicating this year’s display to his mother, who passed away recently. “I am so excited to represent Fort Hunt nationally and put them on the map.”