A Merrick family is among the four vying for a $50,000 prize Nov. 26 at 9 p.m. on the ABC holiday-decor competition "The Great Christmas Light Fight."
"Before I was born," says Philip Heide, 34, who is teamed with his parents, Lenny, 64, and Karen 65, "and my parents had just bought a house, money was tight. So my father handmade a lot of their Christmas decorations," starting with holiday-themed "Peanuts" characters made of plywood. "My dad handmade the Smurfs the year I was born. And over time he made more stuff and they'd go after Christmas and pick things up half-off."
Today, says Heide, principal of St. Mary Gate of Heaven Catholic Academy in Ozone Park, Queens, the pieces number in the hundreds, and the ornately decorated home — where Halloween and Easter inspire equal displays — has become known in Merrick simply as "The House." When the displays are up at the home he shares with his parents, cars line up to see their opulent exhibit, despite the home's location on a dead-end street.
The family is particularly proud of the roof displays on their Cape Cod-style home. "I think one of the things that put us over the top to get on the show was the roof," Heide says. "Yeah, sometimes people put some decorations on their roof if it's a flat roof, but here it's a pitched roof," angled at about 40 degrees. Dad Lenny has continued his longtime tradition of climbing up to bolt plywood to the roof's fascia, on which plentiful decorations go. "Last year," when this episode actually filmed, "he wrapped a rope around himself" for safety. "Before that he would go up, no rope, no nothing. This year we got him a harness."
On the episode — the second of two back-to-back serving as the season-six premiere — the Heides are up against the Strycharz family of Wethersfield, Connecticut; the Watchorns of Ponca, Nebraska; and the Menashe family of Seattle. As it happens, Philip Heide is friends with the Long Islanders who competed on the series last year, married couple Peter Tomasello and Drew Jordan of Ronkonkoma.
And while the pageantry of the decorations is great fun for him and his family, they also represent father-son bonding, Heide says. "My dad's not into sports and I'm not into sports. So this really became our bond." When the display lit up as the TV cameras rolled, "I remember looking at my dad and he had a tear in his eye and I broke down crying. I hugged him and said, 'We made it.' That moment, realizing what we had done, was something very special."