AMESBURY — There are few in town who would quibble with the fact that nobody decorates a house for the holidays like John Edmunds. His enthusiasm for creating an unrivaled front lawn light display each holiday season is so great that his wife refers to him as Father Christmas.
For the third year in a row, Edmunds is inviting passers-by to enjoy yet another spectacular Christmas display on his front lawn, where twinkling lights, Frosty the Snowman and Currier and Ives all come together to treat everyone who happens down Old County Road after nightfall.
"It's up to 40,000 lights now," said Edmunds yesterday afternoon, likening the synchronized show to something one must see to believe.
He describes a static scene that comes alive at 7 p.m. nightly, controlled via computer code from his home office, where lights fade up and down on cue, on and off according to his wishes, and dance to the beat of a programmed musical compilation Edmunds creates from February to the day after Thanksgiving. It drew thousands of appreciative families to his home last year, and he invites one and all to come out and see the show through Christmas Day, he said.
"We do the whole thing for Toys for Tots, to get people to donate toys or cash to that program," said Edmunds of his annual effort. "We try to generate as much interest and repeat people to come back year after year so we can increase the amount of donations every year."
Guests who come out to see the special show are asked to donate an unwrapped toy for the program, which delivers toys to children who might not otherwise have a toy to open on Christmas Day. Edmunds raised $500 and collected 500 toys last year, which gives him additional incentive to pursue a hobby he's enjoyed for 17 years since moving to his Old County Road home.
"Christmas is kind of like my thing," Edmunds said.
When Edmunds and his wife, Debbie, moved to Amesbury, Debbie found out about a house-decorating contest going on in town that involved simply decorating one's front door. She entered John in the contest, and he won it. The following year, he tried something more extravagant.
"The following year, I did a Currier and Ives theme and decorated the windows with wreaths — a wreath in each window all in white lights and red bows," he said. "And the following year, I put up a 25-foot real Christmas tree. I actually bought the tree at Pearson's and stood it up and tied on 160 red bows and then did the whole thing in white lights."
He learned the art of suspending Santa's sleigh in mid-air, using 5-foot fencing wire, and won best in show before stepping away from the competitive aspect. But it wasn't the end for Edmunds, who has been adding lights to his display each year since.
Three years ago, he discovered a computer program designed to take his display to a whole new level, and it's nothing short of spectacular, according to visitors. At night, the 400 extension chords it takes to keep things alight are hidden from view, and though he has no background in theater other than some high school plays, there's nothing amateur about Edmunds' show.
"Every year we do a different theme," Edmunds said. "The first year, it was Christmas Lights Extravaganza. Last year, it was A Child's Christmas. This year, it's Christmas Rocks," which he said includes songs from Chicago, 38 Special, Brian Adams and the TransSiberian Orchestra's Christmas in Sarajevo.
"It's pretty cool," he said. "I start programming it in February in order to get it all done by October. It takes me four weeks to put up the whole display."
Edmunds' wife and two children help out here and there putting up the display, but it's Edmunds' baby for the most part, though they love every bit of it.
"They love it," he said. "They get to invite all their friends over to see the lights."
The show draws so many visitors, in fact, that when the Marines come to pick up the toys Edmunds has collected for the Toys for Tots program, they're amazed that a single individual can beat out the grocery store chains in terms of volume.
"A week before Christmas, the Marine Reserves come up in full dress uniform with a van and load all the toys in," said Edmunds. "They say I do better than some major supermarkets, so I feel good about it."
Edmunds' love for the holiday season was born of a tradition his own parents laid down, which was to decorate their brown house with red lights so that it looked like a gingerbread house. He took it to the next level,and has never looked back.
"It's just Christmas — I've always loved it," Edmunds said.
If you go
What: Edmunds Holiday light show
Where: 6 Old County Road, Amesbury
When: 7 p.m. nightly through December 25, plus an extra 8 p.m. show on Friday and Saturday. Static Light display goes on at 5:30 and can be viewed until 10 p.m.
Cost: Free, with a request for a donated toy for Toys for Tots