Lights Fantastic

Bill Clot has bragging rights to being the grand pooh-bah of holiday yard decorations. The Pinecrest man is the owner and possessed designer of the nation's most elaborate Christmas yard display: a doozy of a diorama with more than 700,000 lights, hundreds of moving figures, dancing bears under a makeshift tent, neon flowers, ice skaters, Santa Claus, and "the obligatory manger scene." The homemade exhibit is strung together by choo-choo trains that run on 750 feet of track, and all of it is enhanced by five sophisticated sound systems that fade in and out as viewers pass.

If you think people who avidly decorate their yards are normal, think again. They are among the millions of folk across the country who each year expand their decorations in an obsessive effort to outdo themselves.

"It's a sickness," quips Clot, who began his obsession in 1978. "It starts with stringing lights around a door and then it just grows."

Clot's display got so much attention that author David Seidman documented the sprawling work of seasonal cheer in his book Holiday Lights. The author chronicles the annual electric spreads of dozens of homeowners with a yard-lighting addiction. Seidman notes that the annual phenomenon is one that will never wither. He quotes industry figures that show more than 80 million homes lighting up each year and over 150 million lighting units sold in the U.S.

"The common denominator of these people," says Seidman, "is that they just love doing this. Some people say it's the last vestige of individual expression left in the 21st Century, but my personal feeling is 'who cares, it's fun.' There is no dark underbelly to this."

Other traits that bind the holiday yard decoration tribe is that they are not shy, they are good-natured, and they don't like being told what to do. Not convinced? Think of Al Goldstein, who last year offended his neighbors by displaying a middle finger-wielding statue in his holiday yard.

For those who want to decorate in good holiday spirit, Seidman recommends designing decorations on paper and then showing neighbors what you're going to do. Especially share plans with neighbors with abutting property lines. Other tips include putting the electrical displays on timers and using flashing holiday lights as opposed to static ones. Both these tactics will help keep electricity bills at a minimum.

But for Clot there are no limits. He figures the more people he can attract to his affair means more money that will be donated to the Women's Cancer Foundation of the University of Miami. Last year he donated more than $30,000 from contributions of visitors.

"Every year it gets better," he says. "It really is beautiful."

David Seidman appears at the Clot home Saturday, December 13, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at 6840 SW 119th St, Pinecrest. He will also sign books earlier that day at 2:00 p.m. at Borders Books, 9205 S Dixie Hwy. Admission to both events is free. Call 305-665-8800.

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Juan Carlos Rodriguez