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The best Decatur-area light displays? Right this way 💡🎄

From the The Herald & Review's '12 gifts to our readers' ☃ series

Christmas decorations star as part of Decatur families' holiday traditions

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DECATUR — Christmas lights are a family tradition for Dustin Pryde, who grew up in Harristown where his grandmother was on the board of trustees. The town hosted a Christmas light contest, and the trustees were the judges. Pryde would tag along to pick a winner.

“And I guess that’s where I got it from, because I would go with them and look at all the lights all the time,” he said.

Across the area, houses small and large light up with Christmas spirit each year, enticing their neighbors to share in the blinking fun. Many families also make a tradition of driving through the neighborhoods, checking out the best and the brightest, which even led one Decatur man to create an online map to help navigate the night.

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Dustin and Katie Pryde are pictured with their children Trista Pryde,10, and Keegan Pryde,13, next to their elaborate light display that is synchronized to music at their home in Forsyth.

Pryde and his family put on the Pryde Family Christmas Light Show located at the end of the cul-de-sac on Stevens Creek Blvd in Forsyth. It includes a display of 20,000 light bulbs that are synchronized with music.

“It started out a lot smaller. It started out with one strand of lights at our old house, and it just kept growing from there,” Pryde said. “The day after Christmas, I’ll be at Walmart looking at what’s on sale for next year.”

The Pryde children also help set up the display and build some of the signature pieces, including a cross on the roof and two trees new this year.

Lighted outdoor Christmas displays, whether trees or homes, have a comparatively brief history. Safety and cost were major concerns that needed to be solved before the tradition began to truly shine.

President Calvin Coolidge was responsible for the first National Christmas tree in 1923. The 48-foot tall balsam fir came from Coolidge's home state of Vermont and was adorned with 2,500 red, white and green electric bulbs.

But for most of the country, outdoor lights wouldn't be widely available until 1927. To increase sales, General Electric and various distribution companies sponsored neighborhood "decorating with color-light" contests, a tradition that continues today.

Displays that incorporate both lights and music can be created a few different ways, but Pryde said his system isn’t too complicated. He uses a plug-and-play system, which is powered by two control boxes and SD cards, but his lights all come off the shelf.

Eighty percent of the lights Pryde uses are LEDs, which reduces the amount of power required to light up the display, he said.

“It doesn’t take a lot of power,” he said. But it takes “4,000 feet of cords.”

Christmas lights are a family affair and a tradition for Roger Dick of Decatur as well. He began decorating his home in the 2500 block of East Division Street and with blow -up figurines and lights about four years ago.

“I do it for my kids and my eight grandkids to enjoy,” Dick said. “This is something I enjoy doing, I try to add something new every year.”

One aspect of Dick’s display is a Santa Claus decoration, which hangs from the roof and looks like the jolly old elf fell while putting up Christmas lights.

“My wife saw it and told me we’ll do that next year, and I said, 'No, we’ll get it this year,'” Dick said.

Dick said Christmas is his favorite holiday, so he likes to go all out to celebrate.

“The only holiday I like is Christmas,” he said. “Because you can get pretty lights.”

Tim Hoffman of Decatur is a Christmas display aficionado as well. His previous home on Lake Shore Drive became a destination for hundreds every night during the holiday season with Lakeshore Illuminations, which was set to music that could be tuned in on your car radio.


Roger Dick adds new decorations to his outdoor display each year. An angel is among the items he added this year.

He said the big display did increase his power bill, but not as much as they used to since he switched to LED bulbs.

“It does go up,” Hoffman said. But “you go on budget billing (which evens out monthly payments), so you don’t pay attention, but you do notice an increase.”

Hoffman did say he was hesitant to give up the warm Christmas glow of traditional lights in favor of the crisp white of LEDs, but once he switched he couldn’t go back.

This year, Hoffman’s big contribution to the holiday spirit is an interactive map of festive homes in Macon County. 

The map was created out of Hoffman’s own experience and family traditions. His family goes around town to find Christmas lights. They make it a scavenger hunt to find a special house or neighborhood that is lighted and festive.

“You'll turn the corner and the lights will hit you, and wow, it’s just awesome,” he said.

But this year, he decided to make it a little bit easier on himself and others by making the map.

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Roger Dick says he does his Christmas decorating at his home for his grandchildren and that he adds new decorations each year.

“Everybody is busy, and they don't have time to drive down a random street and find lights,” he said. “That is pretty much why I put it together.”

More than 800 people have looked at the interactive Christmas lights map associated with a Facebook page called Macon County IL Christmas Lights, Hoffman said. The page itself has more than 1,800 likes.

“It was just something I wanted to give back to the community and (create) tradition as well,” he said.

He said he wants to encourage people to message him on Facebook with any addresses to add for the map. He hopes to make it as comprehensive as possible for holiday light fans, he said.

“I just love Christmas lights,” he said.

And he hopes to share that love with the community, he said.

“It’s a tradition for people to decorate their homes for Christmas,” Hoffman said. “Then, it is a tradition for people to go out and see those decorations.”


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