Tuesday, June 15, 2021

27th Christmas House Decorating Contest Thrives Despite COVID

Not even a worldwide pandemic could dampen the spirits of Marco Islanders as they celebrated the 27th Christmas House Decorating Contest on Friday, December 18.

 
The convoy of judges and interested islanders weaved their way around the island led by island treasure, Dave Rice, and his co-chair, wife Jeanne. 
 
Dave Rice, whose community service resume includes recognition as Marco Island’s Volunteer of the Year and Citizen of the Year,  started the popular house decorating event in 1994 and has every detail of the evening carefully planned.
 
Due to the pandemic, judges rode in an open-air trolley and some judges took the extra precaution of riding in their own cars to do the judging.   A long string of islanders also followed the trolley just for the fun of it.  And it was fun!  Temperatures dipping down into the 50s allowed participants to bundle up a bit and really get into the Christmas spirit.
 
“We’re the most important vehicle on the island tonight,” Jeanne Rice told the trolley driver as she provided him with turn-by-turn instructions on the route that included stops at the 10 finalists’ homes, spread across the 4 x 6-mile island.  The judges seemed to agree that this year’s trolley driver was the best-ever as they passed the hat to show their appreciation of his chauffeuring skills.
 
“This is a fun event because it’s short term,” Dave Rice said.  “I used to be in charge of all of Christmas Island Style.  I guess I’ve been at this 35 years.  This event I started 27 years ago.  When I started the street parade at night—it used to be a little day parade—I started it at night and it became a monster—65 floats and every high school band in the area played in it except for Immokalee.  I ran that for eight or 10 years.  I said, ‘I’ve got to give this up.  I just kept this part of it.”
 
Rice’s original intent in starting the Christmas House Decorating Contest was to light up the island with Christmas spirit.  
 
“Light up Marco,” he said.  “I’d almost give everybody a free string of lights,” he laughed.  “I don’t care if it’s even one light.  Just as long as it looks like Christmas.  Just be a part of it!”
 
The house decorating competition is serious business.  This year’s winners, Therese and Joe Giannone spent three solid weeks putting their display together.  That’s three weeks less than it used to take them when they were still figuring things out.
 
“We’ve being doing it since we moved here in 1998,” Therese Giannone said.  “Now we’re pretty much experts at it.  I think we are.  We got it up in three weeks.  Three weeks at eight hours a day.  It used to take us six weeks.  We just increase it a little bit at a time each year.  We lived on Barfield for four or five years and we did a little bit there.  We moved here to Channel Court in 2002 and it grew bigger and bigger.  We keep making it bigger each year, buying more lights.
 
The Giannones aren’t the only ones who invest a lot of time putting together elaborate Christmas displays. 
 
“The big guys start right after Halloween,” Dave Rice said.  “Thanksgiving is the big weekend.   But there’s a couple of houses that definitely start way before that.”
 
There is a five year sit-out period for winners.
 
“Right from Day 1 we had a five year sit-out period for prior winners,” Rice explained.  “There is also a separate competition for businesses.”  Rice said over 100 businesses on the island participate.
Lee County Electric Co-op has sponsored the event since its first year.  They find the lighting contest is a natural for them.
 
“We’re a perfect partnership, we call it,” said Tricia Dorn, LCEC key account executive.  Dorn works with the City of Marco Island and all of the other large accounts on the island.
LCEC public relations director Karen Ryan was on hand for the event for the first time in 10 years.  She was thrilled with what she saw.
 
“Tricia has been with it for the entire 27 years,” Karen Ryan said, “so she isn’t surprised by anything she’s seen tonight.  But I was surprised by the people who were past winners who are still in the holiday spirit.  It’s our pleasure to sponsor this event.  It’s just such a great community event.  It’s great to see how everyone just comes together.
“We’re not for profit, so we don’t have a lot of money to do things all the time.  We try to look for things in the community that allow us to give back to the community but are also a natural fit.  For us, a lighting contest is a natural fit.
The LCEC ladies noticed that more LED lights are showing up in the island’s displays.
 
“LED lighting is great,” Ryan said.  “They’re much brighter and they last longer.”
 
“They might be a little more cost up front, but they last longer,” Dorn added.  “I can tell you, at my home, we had to add additional breakers.  And we have nothing compared to what they have here!”
 
“The LED does help with that,” Ryan asserted.
 
The Giannones are on-board with LED lighting.
 
 “We’re trying to convert to LED,” Therese Giannone said.
“LED is a game-changer,” Joe Giannone confirmed.
 
One finalist, Steve Connor at 1842 Dogwood Drive, did his entire display in LED.
 
The Giannones were humbled by their win.
 
 “I’m shocked,” Therese Giannone said.  “I surely didn’t expect it.  I feel so grateful for it.  Everybody appreciates it.  The kids that drive by with their parents.  We usually dress up as Santa Claus, but we decided with the COVID we shouldn’t do that.  We didn’t want to jeopardize any of the kids.  We used to give out gifts to all the kids.  We decided this year, not to do it.  But we’ve being doing this for 22 years now.  We love it!”
 

Karen Ryan, public relations manager for LCEC. The electric co-op has sponsored the Christmas House Decorating Contest since it started in 1994.

Winners:

Therese and Joe Giannone, 151 Channel Court, Overall Winner
Top 10 Finalists (in no particular order)
1453 Bermuda Road
371 Yarmouth Street
1591 Galleon Avenue
1625 Ludlow Road
780 Copeland Drive
975 Leo Court
1842 Dogwood Drive
1955 Sheffield Avenue 
151 Channel Court
1208 Fruitland Avenue
 

Also Worth Seeing:

1952 Sheffield Avenue
1572 Shores Court
812 Newell Terrace
 

Previous Winners:

1264 Whiteheart Avenue
865 Swan Drive
161 Bermuda Road
513 Nassau Road

Pam Rivard of Iberia Bank. The bank made goodie bags for the judges since the pandemic made inside festivities impractical.

Santa offers visitors a place to sit at the finalist’s home at 975 Leo Court.

Steve Connor’s high-tech display at 1842 Dogwood Drive.

Judges in the trolley inspect the decorations at 1955 Sheffield Avenue.

Judges raise their hands to vote for a decorated house. In the front row are Larry Sacher, Bob Boland and Lyn Bedell.

Dave Rice enters the trolley after directing traffic along the route. Rice, who started the Christmas House Decorating Contest in 1994, covers all the details.

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