By Amanda Clark | Photography by Caylena Cahill
In 1995, first-time father Timothy Gay was determined to make Christmas magical for his daughter. A Christmas light display seemed like the perfect way to do this. He began with 600 lights; five years later, it grew to 5,000; then to 73,000. Fast forward 23 years, and what started as the family’s modest display now has a name — the ERDAJT Holiday Light Display. It has more than a half a million lights, is choreographed to music, draws crowds by the thousands each year, and holds the Guinness World Record for most lights on a residential property.
Left: The lights are stored in the Gays’ large, full basement and in the garage (pictured). Tim points out that everything requires precise arranging. “It helps that I’m an engineer. And when we’ve designed new things a few key design rules are: 1) How fast can we take it down and 2) Where and how will it be stored.” Right: The Gay family accepted the Guinness World Record for “Most Lights on a Residential Property” in November of 2014.
Each year, Timothy and his wife, Grace, along with their children, Emily Raejean, Daniel Arthur, and John Timothy (a.k.a. ERDAJT), dedicate nine weeks to setting up the display. “It has become such a central part of my life, I can’t imagine not doing it,” says Emily. “I drive 10 hours each weekend starting in September just to set up lights! But it’s really about the aspect of family, tradition, and community. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Not surprisingly, “the kids are all pursuing jobs in engineering and computer science!” says Tim.
“One year when I was about 12, I was putting lights on a bush near our pond,” recalls Dan. “It was by a particularly icy area, so I was moving a bit slow. My Dad came over and said, ‘Why are you so slow? Let me show you how it’s done.’ He proceeded to push me aside, furiously hang up lights, and then find himself slipping and falling straight into the freezing water. After that, I continued my slow and steady pace, and he rushed in for a shower.”
The purchasing of the lights starts much earlier in the year. “The major suppliers all have preorder sales in January,” says Tim. “So I placed an order in mid-January, even though we had not closed on the design.”
Tim and Grace with Dan (far left), John, and Emily during a fall setup weekend.
In 2017, the Gays unveiled their largest element to date, the “spherical wonder” that hovers over the center of the pond (pictured below). They also raised $47,437 for charities last year, including the Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie and the Dutchess County Alzheimer’s Association, bringing a six-year total to $316,498.
The spherical wonder
One of the family’s favorite parts is seeing the happiness it brings to visitors. Especially when there’s a proposal. “It’s a great time when you’re having a party in your home, and a happy couple comes in and says, ‘We just got engaged in your driveway!’” says Dan.
Not everyone is a fan of the display. With more than 1,000 cars circling during the last week alone, neighbors have expressed their disapproval. In 2010, Tim took the initiative and engaged with local law enforcement to mitigate problems caused by traffic. “I do feel bad that it upsets some, but thankful that it brings joy and happiness to far many others.”
This year, the ERDAJT Holiday Light Display has 606,000 lights (more than they had for the Guinness World Record in 2014), 1,600 strobes, and 1,608 individually controlled items.
Catch it before the lights go out; the last show is December 27. For more information and the nightly show schedule, visit www.erdajt.com.
As of 2017 (when these photos were taken) the ERDAJT Holiday Light Display had 555,000 lights, 1,550 strobes, and 259 choreographed songs. The music part entered the picture 12 years ago. “Being a music lover, I knew just adding more lights wasn’t going to be much fun, so I prepared over 2006 and made that major jump in 2007,” remarks Tim. “Adding more things became a big part of the process — designing unique elements and thinking about how you would choreograph them to music became the challenge.”
“In 2000, my brother Brian was visiting at Thanksgiving and I asked him to help put up the lights,” says Tim. “He did. The following year when he returned, he said he would only help if we put the lights around the pond instead of out by the road. Once we saw the lights reflecting, I knew I needed more lights. That’s what caused the expansion from 5,000 lights to about 73,000 lights.”