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Beyond the bulb: Collingwood's Griswolds shine bright over the holidays

Music synchronization programming, custom-built infrastructure all part of the magic for these all-out for Christmas light and decoration displays

The days may be getting darker, but Collingwood locals are lighting up the streets in their own ways. 

With the holidays just around the corner, the town's Christmas light enthusiasts are in their element.

“I get excited for all holidays, but Christmas is my very favourite,” said Bill Nicholson. 

Nicholson, who lives on Peel St. just south of Hume, is known for the extravagant Christmas display he sets up on his front yard every year. 

“My daughter just shakes her head and says ‘Dad, it looks like Christmas threw up on your lawn,’” he laughed.

Nicholson has been setting up the annual display for almost two decades. It started with two wire reindeer and has grown and grown each year since. 

His lawn now features all eight reindeer with Rudolph leading the pack and a white wire sleigh following behind.  Nicholson built a ramp for the sleigh team to make it appear like they're taking flight. Surrounding the sleigh is a number of inflatable and well-lit winter characters, from a chipmunk and penguin to a larger-than-life teddy bear that stretches its arms wide, offering a big bear hug. 

A tall, light-adorned tree in the centre of the lawn towers above the winter scene. Nicholson said it takes about two hours and a bucket truck to get all 30 strings of lights situated in the tree.

The whole display used to cost him an additional $600 on his electricity bill in December, but now that Nicholson is using LED lights, it’s only about $150 to light his lawn for the entire month.

His neighbours have nicknamed him Griswold around the holidays. 

“Each year we add a few more pieces and then we look and say 'it’s too full so we won’t buy anymore,'” said Nicholson. 

But that never sticks. 

Nicholson’s wife, Susan, who is the general manager of the Downtown Collingwood BIA, got into it this year as well. While out shopping one day she spotted an inflatable chipmunk with a mouth that moves and she just had to have it.

Nicholson couldn’t resist the urge either, and added a drumming teddy bear to his collection this year. 

“The next question is always… 'Does this fit on my lawn?' I am not quite sure,” he laughed. “But if I can make somebody smile then it’s all worth it.” 

And the stories Nicholson has collected over the years could warm even the Grinch’s heart.

Nicholson chokes up as he remembers one year when a little girl from up the road dropped off a Christmas card, thanking Nicholson for keeping the spirit of Christmas alive every year. He loves when he sees cars slow down as they pass by and always keeps a bowl of candy canes ready to hand out to people checking out his festive display. 

“I just love the smiles on childrens’ faces. People of all ages,” he said. 

Dave Kalka does it for the same reason. 

Located on Lockhart Rd. just east of Hurontario St., Kalka's display is another gem you just can’t miss. 

The lights on his lawn dance in sync to the Christmas music playing through outdoor speakers. The whole display is programmed through a computer and runs every evening from 5:30 until 9 p.m. 

There doesn’t appear to be a single spot on his lawn that isn’t covered with Christmas lights or a lit-up animal, and the side of his house is completely lined with enough multi-colour lights to brighten anyone's night. 

“I couldn't tell ya the number of lights I have,” said Kalka. “On [one] tree alone I think there are at least 800.”

He said he still has about 3,000 lights sitting in his garage he hasn’t found a place for yet. 

All Kalka has to do is press play on his computer and the synchronized light show will begin outside. His son-in-law helps with all the programming, and his wife, Kathy, helps set up the display — which typically takes about three weeks. He has over 400 hours pre-programmed, and hopes to add a few more songs by Christmas this year. 

“Usually, every year, I will add something new,” he said. “We change it a little bit, add a little bit.”

Kalka has been setting up the display at his house in Collingwood for five years now, and did it at his house in Barrie for three years before that. He began with several characters from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, but he has since started displaying that set at Halloween, and focuses on Christmas for the month of December. 

If you’re driving down Lockhart any evening between Dec. 1 and New Year's Eve, tune your radio to 87.7FM and you can listen to the music without even having to roll down your window. 

“I do it for the people, to see the kids’ expressions watching everything that goes on. It brightens the season up,” said Kalka. “Christmas was my mom’s favourite holiday, so now it’s mine.” 

On any given night, a handful of cars can be seen on the side of the road taking pictures and videos of the spectacle. 

Other exceptionally lit houses can be found all around town. A display on Fourth Street West features two dozen Frosty the Snowmen. 

The best part? The family-friendly festivity can be experienced socially-distant, from the safety of your own car. 

“This year especially… It’s really special for people to get out, share with each other and put a smile on their face,” said Kalka.

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Maddie Johnson

About the Author: Maddie Johnson

Maddie Johnson is an early career journalist working in financial, small business, adventure and lifestyle reporting. She studied Journalism at the University of King's College, and worked in Halifax, Malta and Costa Rica before settling in Collingwood
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