Holiday decor lights up the island

Christmas spirit is burning bright on North Whidbey.

At least a dozen residents have decorated their homes with enough lights and decorations to lure folks to take a slow drive by the colorful spectacles.

Every year a bus full of people from the Oak Harbor Senior Center tour the lights. Janis Powell, the driver and tour guide, said the event has become so popular that she’s considering adding a second bus ride in future years.

Yet many families, especially those with children, navigate their own tour of lights each year.

Jay Hale said he and his wife, Christi, came home to their Reservation Road home one night to find cars lined up in their driveway. People had driven all the way from Anacortes and were waiting for them to turn on the 40,000 lights that decorate their property.

A TV camera crew from KOMO news filmed Hale’s home last week for the annual Parade of Lights broadcast. It was the third year in a row that the Hales made the list, which is a big deal among those who go overboard with ornaments.

“It’s a sport I guess and it’s kind of like going to the Super Bowl,” Hale said.

In fact, many of the biggest displays began as a friendly competition. Ben and Karen Bess got started decorating their Sleeper Road yard about 16 years ago in order to out-do a neighbor.

“It started out small, but it just grew and grew,” Karen said.

In addition to 3,000 lights, the couple decorate their yards with many Christmas characters. There’s a half dozen giant, inflatable figures, a lighted nativity scene, plastic statues and just about every other conceivable decoration.

They keep Winnie the Pooh close to the front door. Vandals kidnapped a bunch of decorations one year and spread them out all over the county. A deputy returned Pooh after he was placed in the middle of a road and caused an accident.

Bob and Karen have so many decoration that they build a new shed just to house them.

“It’s about the spirit of Christmas,” Bob said. “We like having everyone go by and slow down.”

On Olympic Drive in Oak Harbor, neighbors know it’s Christmastime when Larry Smith straps on the spikes and climbs a tree with a string of lights.

He said it only takes about four days to adorn his yard with lights and some very unique decorations. He used to own a body and fender shop, so he used his skills to build outdoor ornaments, like a lighted iron sleigh filled with gifts.

Smith started decorating in earnest about five years ago in order to compete with neighbors.

“It’s a big secret each year what’s going to be new,” he said.

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