The holiday display at the McPhee house on Losson Road in Cheektowaga debuts annually on Thanksgiving Day, when the guests of Daniel and Victoria McPhee work off some dinner calories outside with a walk in megawatt wonderland.
But lights are not the only component of the large display on McPhee's rambling front lawn, where 43 inflatables rise from the ground each day at 4 p.m.
Daniel McPhee, father of five, is the creator of this ambitious array. Each year for 23 years he has taken a week off from his job at to set up the spectacle.
“It’s for the kids,” said McPhee, who has five children aged 9 to 30, and five grandchildren. “I just like the way people feel about it. Everyone is walking around the outside. I just smile.”
His wife is supportive and helps when she can, but she is not as enthusiastic.
“We’re 50 now and maybe we should slow down. I told him. He would not hear of it,” Victoria McPhee said. “He loves to do this. This is his baby. He’ll be doing it forever.”
Holiday décor changed forever in 1882, thanks to Edward H. Johnson, inventor and vice president of Thomas Edison’s electric company. Johnson strung 80 red, white and blue light bulbs on his Christmas tree, powered by an electric crank that rotated six times per minute, according to a 2010 story by Wired magazine. Exterior holiday decorating took off after World War II, when manufacturers ramped up production of Christmas lights, according to the story, “The Curious Evolution of Holiday Lights.”
McPhee started decorating as a child helping his dad hang holiday lights from the roof of his family home in West Seneca. When he moved to Cheektowaga, Daniel continued the tradition. Not even a fall could dampen his enthusiasm, but it did teach him a lesson.
“I used to decorate near the end of November. Never again with snow on the roof. I slid off and landed in the driveway. I knocked myself out,” said Daniel, who also lost two teeth and broke his ribs. “I finished the job. It just took me a little longer.”
McPhee also learned that rain can create havoc with the wire jungle that covers his lawn. With the rains coming this weekend, his decorations will likely pop a breaker, deflating the inflatables and shutting off the lights.
“Rain is our enemy,” said McPhee. “We blow something out no matter how I try and string the cords. When they get wet, breakers pop.”
This season Daniel unveiled a new decoration, plastic blow molds, the hollow illuminated forms that make up the three kings in his Nativity scene. He inherited four pick-up truck loads of blow molds from a longtime friend, his wife explained.
McPhee understands why some people like simple wreaths and window candles, and others prefer more volume — even if it adds to their utility bills. McPhee said his electricity bill climbs $600 in December and $500 in January. “I just think, the more the merrier,” he said.
Which explains why 600 guests attended the couple's wedding reception and 250 friends and relatives surprised McPhee on his 50th birthday. This year, Victoria McPhee mailed out 302 Christmas cards – each including a photo of the house.
“Everything is over the top for Danny,” his wife said. “Nothing is ever small. Danny is really generous kind of person.”
McPhee’s penchant for the extreme landed their house a Facebook page titled “Cheektavegas Griswolds.” The page received more than 900 likes, but there is at least one person who does not care for the display, according to a town official.
One resident showed up at Town Hall before Thanksgiving to complain about McPhee’s decorations, said Mark Wegner, town highway superintendent.
“Now they’re complaining about Christmas,” Wegner said. “I can’t believe someone complained about Christmas decorations. I think they’re cool.”
Frances Weaver, a 40-year resident of Losson Road, lives across from the McPhees. A few years ago, Weaver was sick and sleeping in a hospital bed in her living room.
“I had brain cancer and I couldn’t even move,” she recalled. “The lights helped me. Every night when I couldn’t sleep, I could watch them.”