About two months ago, at the end of October the town of Orange was in the midst of deciding on which candidates would be most worthy of their vote in the municipal election, Elf Mama Annie Davis was working on plans for the Santa’s Helper event, and the stretch of road known for its Lincoln Lights was a mecca for holiday cheer.
Friends and family were clearing the front lawn of Chris Small’s home of all the autumn leaves that had fallen and with two months to go before Christmas, Chris was putting the finishing touches on his light display.
A bit early perhaps, but this year, he was a man on a mission with $50,000 on the line, so everything had to be perfect.
Two years ago I covered Chris and Maria Small’s extensive light display that was synched to holiday music. People started flocking to Orange to see it.
Last year, The Smalls put out a donation box and all the money was split between two charities — the Habitat for Humanity and the Leukemia Society. This year, their chosen charity is the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
“Last year we collected $1,000 for the charities, I hope we can get that much for this year’s charity too,” he said.
In early September, Chris’s cousin Nicole received a text from a friend with information about the Great Christmas Light Fight contest that would air on ABC in December.
Chris and Maria put together a 10 minute (application) video of their display along with video introducing ABC to their family, 2 year old Cooper and their 6 month old twin babies.
Within two weeks, the family knew they had been accepted as contestants.
On October 1 ABC came to film the family for the backstory part of the show then he had 21 days to decorate the yard.
In the meantime, the family invited neighbors and friends to be “on set” during the filming and made up fliers to attract a few extra townspeople in holiday attire in order to set a festive scene for the cameras, but they did not post anything on their Lincoln Lights Facebook page because they didn’t think their little neighborhood could handle too many spectators.
Before the film crew arrived, a friend dropped off a truck load of “snow” and children happily frolicked through it and threw it up in the air when they got home from school.
On the night of the filming, about 200 people showed up to fill the stands, cheer on cue and stand by their hometown family. First Selectman Jim Zeoli first stopped by the house, then rushed over to the Grassy Hill Country Club for the big candidate’s debate, where he talked about the contest out of pride for his Park & Rec Dept groundskeeper.
I cringed, because I had spoken to Chris earlier that day and promised to keep everything quiet, because he had a “gag order” of sorts by contract with ABC not to discuss the contest.
I promise him, “I won’t put anything on Orange Live until your segment is going to air.”
Chris (and I) were surprised when a short time later, a town newspaper ran a story soon blurting out all the information it could—What? I was so afraid that the Smalls would be disqualified because of it.
My motto is: Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
So for two months I’ve kept my promise and not printed a word about it and keeping my photos to myself until now.
The show didn’t end filming until 2:30 a.m. “We were tired, but it was so much fun!” Chris told Orange Live.
The very sweet celebrity judge, Sabrina Soto posed with the Small’s neighbors, friends and members of the Orange Police Department
What makes someone want to go over the top with Christmas Lights?
Christmas is for children and three years ago, Chris and Maria didn’t have a family. Their extended family had kids, but the Smalls were struggling with infertility.
“We had to focus our attention on something else, so we chose Christmas,” Chris said. “We bought a couple of blow molds, then 50 blow molds, and then we went out on the day after Christmas and bought our first 15,000 lights. We hit all the stores and stocked up on lights and decorations — and ignored the problem of not having children.”
The Smalls adopted Cooper to fill the void (and he did an excellent job completing their lives), but they continued to build their Christmas decor… Then the twins came six months ago, and their holiday dreams all came true. Their lighting display just adds to the joy they already feel.
The Smalls display is made up of 27,000 lights, 100 blow molds and 2 inflatables. — “it’s bright,” he said with a laugh.
We love seeing all the people drive by and knowing that it makes them happy. Cooper loves the lights, he dances around in the yard and when we get home he says, “Lights on.”
Three years ago, with the first display, Chris knew nothing about synching lights to music, he did a lot of Internet research and got his first controller, then figured it all out from there.
“It’s a good feeling knowing I could build something from nothing,” he said.
The one thing the Smalls are most concerned about is not whether they will win or lose, but that they, and anyone who comes by to see the lights are respectful of their neighbors and their neighbor’s property.
“We have great neighbors, and they have been so patient throughout this whole thing,” he said.
He even included a plea to that effect to the music people hear when they tune in to the correct station on their car radio. To Help the traffic flow, Lincoln Road was made into a one-way street (with the cooperation of the police and highway departments) until the show is done airing tonight — so if you’re going out to see it, enter on the Wilson Road side.
Tonight’s Show is back-to-back episodes from 9-11 p.m. The Smalls and 3 other families will compete in his episode, then one winner from each show the 9-10 pm and 10-11 episode, will be announced.
On the Lincoln Lights Facebook Page, small posted, “Tonight’s the big night, watch me and my family crush the competition on ABC’s – The Great Christmas Light Fight!!! Watch and cheer us onnnnnn!”