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Glow together: Mtn. View family's holiday light display grows into tradition

Photos by Megan V. Winslow
The Horton family’s Mountain View Avenue house lights up this month with fanciful figures ranging from “Star Wars” characters to “Sesame Street” favorites and a rotund pink pig.

The Horton family’s holiday decorating scheme grew in bits and pieces over the years, as a few snowmen snowballed into a menagerie of holiday beasts upon their lawn.

The Mountain View residents moved into their Mountain View Avenue home in 2007 and have expanded their lighting schemes annually, this year adding a walkway arch spangled with 3,000 lights.

“I started going to Home Depot or Target right after Christmas so I could buy everything on discount,” Mike Horton said. “We try to get lots of characters because the kids like to look at it.”

In addition to lightsaber-wielding representatives of the light and dark sides of the Force – all in Christmas attire – a golden retriever stands watch in front of a stack of presents. A cartoonish pink pig greets visitors walking up the path while characters from “Sesame Street” and the Snoopy universe mingle in front of a festive playhouse, yet another visual lure for young passersby.

Mike, his wife Melissa, and daughters Mika, Maya and Makayla turn on the lights early, by 4:45 p.m., to accommodate young neighbors who might be out only early in the evening.

“We have Christmas music – my older daughter is dying to put Lady Gaga out there – but it’s just standard Christmas carol music,” said Horton, noting that he found a controller that tries to synchronize the lights to flash along to each song.

Break out the power meter

The larger electrical coordination behind the enterprise: an evolving wiring diagram of the power cords routed to four different circuits in the house and garage. Distributing the demand from approximately 25,000 lights required Horton to break out a power meter and study how to balance his display across the circuits.

The family collection has been expanding to include more and more LEDs, which are more power efficient and last longer than incandescent bulbs.

“I’m not trying to waste energy here, and they don’t break as easily,” Horton said.

But lighting on this scale isn’t cheap – he reports that PG&E puts him into “the punishment box” experienced by rate-payers who exceed standard usage but figures the expense, which might exceed $1,000 this year, is worth the fun.

Horton and Maya (age 10) took the lead when the family started putting up lights the week after Thanksgiving, and the week after that dedicated two eight-hour days to completing the project as a father/daughter pair.

Practical matters

An electrical engineer by trade, Horton reflected wistfully that more hands-on experience in a shop class in high school might have helped his efforts. The stash of hundreds of extension cords he pulls out of the attic each year require careful planning and placement.

Although the Hortons do use a big ladder to string much of their display, they hire a guy with an even bigger ladder to outfit their eaves. An extension pole with clips can extend an amateur decorator’s reach, Horton explained, but moving around material on the roof can be “a pain,” as well as dangerous.

Horton said his personal favorite among the menagerie is the little pink pig in a Santa hat.

“I have a lot of lights – it’s one thing to just blast a lot of optical power out, which I enjoy, but the kids really enjoy seeing ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘Star Wars’ characters,” he said.

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