, Newburyport, MA

December 14, 2012

Amesbury display 'way behind' in toy donations

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — Each December since 2007, John and Deb Edmands have transformed their Old County Road home into a Christmas spectacle, decorating their house with over 40,000 lights to put on a half-hour show choreographed to music every night starting at 7.

As the show has grown over the years, so have the crowds, and ever since the beginning the Edmandses have encouraged guests to bring unwrapped toys or cash donations with them to benefit Toys for Tots.

Last year was particularly fruitful, as the family collected over 600 toys and over $1,000 in donations, making the Edmandses the Haverhill Chapter of the Marine Corps Reserves’ largest contributor. This year, however, donations have been way down, they said.

“Toy-wise we’re way down from last year, way off,” said John Edmands. “We are so far behind last year it’s not even funny. It’s still been mild, last night the crowds weren’t too bad, but it’s still way off from last year.”

Edmands couldn’t point to a particular reason why donations were down, other than the fact that 2011 was an especially good year, but he said his hope was that reaching out to the community might help.

Over the years, the Edmandses’ light show has become something of a Christmas tradition for many in town. Edmands said every night there will be people who are seeing it for the first time, along with people who come back every year, or even every week.

The crowds typically grow larger as Christmas approaches, with the Saturday before the holiday typically being the biggest draw. Edmands estimated that there are usually 300 to 400 people out in front of his house that day.

While the show is going on, he will stand out front to make sure cars don’t stop, watch and block the road. He also put up no parking signs on the other side of the street to make sure people parked on his side only, keeping a protective barrier between passing cars and his guests while also allowing for a free lane of traffic.

“The scariest thing was when all the cars parked on the other side of the street, and everyone was standing on this side of the street to watch the show,” Edmands said. “Cars coming up the street were swerving to avoid the parked cars and almost hitting the people.”

He also keeps an eye on the little kids to make sure they don’t run into the street or try to touch any of the lights.

“A lot of little kids want to touch the stuff, but there are over 400 extension cords on the ground,” Edmands said. “I don’t need a little kid lighting up as part of the show.”

Edmands said it takes roughly a month between Halloween and Thanksgiving to rig up all of the lights. He’ll start by decorating the house, and then he’ll slowly creep down into the flowerbeds before eventually covering the yard with lights, decorations and extension cords.

Once he’s had a chance to cut the grass nice and short one last time, he’ll set up the big tree, the arches and the little trees on the lawn while laying out a blanket of extension cords. Usually it’s all set up by Thanksgiving, and on the day after Thanksgiving he’ll hold a private show for his neighbors.

“They’re the ones who are inconvenienced the most,” Edmands said. “Then the Sunday after Thanksgiving is when it opens to the public.”

As far as the songs go, Edmands said he works on those year round. Given the complexity of process, it can take anywhere from a month to two and a half months to program one song, but after six years of work he has established a solid base to work off of.

Amazingly, Edmands is already thinking ahead to next year, when he plans on retiring “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and replacing it with something new.

“It was one of the first songs I ever programmed. I used to leave it in there for nostalgia, because of how basic the programming was compared to what I can do now,” Edmands said. “But, yeah, that’s gone for next year. My daughter is already on iTunes looking up new songs for me.”