Update: Happyland Christmas Lights won the finale, and $50,000.
A Christmas display like Bobby Moore’s doesn’t spring up overnight.
It takes nearly a month to get the thousands of lights, figurines and inflatables in place, but even that barely begins to hint at how long the display has been in the making at the southwest Raleigh house.
It goes back at least as far as Moore’s grandfather, Robert Moore Sr., who used to build the floats for Raleigh’s Christmas parade. Bobby Moore’s father, Robert Moore Jr., inherited many of the decorations used on those floats – and an appreciation for well-curated displays of Christmas spirit. Each Christmas, Bobby’s father took the family to see a particularly festive house off of New Bern Avenue.
It’s no surprise, then, that Moore, now 62, always has had a similar affinity for the Yuletide arts.
“I love all holidays,” Moore said. “But Christmas – I shine at Christmas.”
So does his house – brightly enough to capture the attention of producers of ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight,” a reality show that pits Christmas decorators and their displays against one another. The winners, as chosen by judges Carter Oosterhouse and Taniya Nayak, get $50,000 and a trophy shaped like a giant Christmas light.
Moore’s “Happyland Christmas Lights,” at the corner of Huntingwood Drive and Penny Road, is one of two in the Triangle featured on the show this season. Happyland’s episode airs Monday, Dec. 19, at 8 p.m.
The family won after impressing Oosterhouse with its mix of history, classic restored decorations and unexpected elements, such as a UFO, smoke-blowing dinosaur and Star Wars characters.
A Wake Forest family’s display, “Piper Lights,” was featured in the premiere Dec. 5. Its sprawling display, which features a train ride and a candy store, was declared the episode’s winner.
Glenda Leggett, who runs Piper Lights with her parents and her brother, said she hasn’t even seen the episode yet. She’s too busy running the candy store, so she could only guess at why her family came out on top.
“Our displays tell stories,” Leggett said. “I think that’s really what probably captured the judges’ attention.”
Moore was reluctant to sign on when the show first approached him.
Much of his display comprises antique figurines and ornaments from older displays that he salvaged and restored, including many from the landmark display his father took him to as a child. His production has all the bells, whistles and lights of any over-the-top Christmas display, but Moore takes special pride in the history and elegance of its nativity scene.
He said he’s never thought of the display in competitive terms, except, maybe, when it comes to competing against his work from the previous year.
“There’s an addiction to it,” Moore said. “When I first started, I had a string of blue lights that was around my family’s house when I was a kid. We put that up every year, and maybe a little more the next. You keep adding things until you run out of money, space or time. The electrical bills aren’t cheap.”
They’re about triple what he pays in a normal month, Moore said, declining to give an exact figure.
As the display began to grow, another family member, ensured it wouldn’t stop – his nephew, Rick Moore.
“My nephew used to come over here when he was a kid,” Moore said. “He’d always walk up to me and say, ‘More lights, more lights!’ But it was never enough, so we kept adding. He passed away some years ago, and we basically dedicated the whole display just to him.”
Behind the scenes
Moore said the display has been operating at its current scale for about 12 years. But this season has been different.
Moore typically puts up the first pieces of the display the day after Halloween and tries to finish up by Thanksgiving. But the TV show’s production schedule meant Moore’s decorations had to be expedited, and the house needed to start looking Christmas-y in September.
The competitive aspect of the show prompted Moore to spend extra time getting everything ready for the judges. That meant extra-careful restoration of older figurines and special diligence in hiding or disguising power cords from view.
Moore said this will be the last year he decorates his house on such a scale. He plans to hand most of his lights and figurines over to his son, Robby Moore, who lives about three miles away. The extra motivation to get everything right and go out with a bang made this year’s show more fabulous than ever.
“Every year on New Year’s Eve, when I go out and cut off these switches for the last time, it’ll bring a tear to your eye,” Bobby Moore said. “This year it’s going to be pretty emotional.”
But Robby Moore said this isn’t the first time his father has threatened to hang up his lights for good.
“My dad’s talked about for years and years and years how it’ll be at my house next year, and it’s been one of those running things,” Robby Moore said. “I always told him I know it’s gonna be at my house, but I doubt it’ll be next year.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan
See the lights
▪ “The Great Christmas Light Fight” featuring the Moores airs Monday at 8 p.m. on ABC. The episode featuring the Piper Lights in Wake Forest is Episode 1 at abc.go.com/shows/the-great-christmas-light-fight.
▪ Happyland Christmas Lights is at 5504 Huntingwood Drive, Raleigh, at the intersection with Penny Road. There are thousands of lights, inflatable characters and homemade wooden displays. Hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 6:30 to 10 p.m., weather permitting. Lights won’t be turned on in the rain. Go to the Happyland Christmas Lights Facebook page for updates.
▪ Piper Lights at 5725 Fixit Shop Road, Wake Forest, features a drive-through display, a train ride, old-fashioned candy store and Santa. The lights are on daily until Jan. 6. Hours are Sunday to Thursday, 5:30 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Santa is there Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 7 to 9 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. Go to facebook.com/piperlights/ for updates.
By the numbers
The Happyland Christmas Lights display has:
119 blow molds
25 wire sculptures
63 basket trees
3 fog machines
2 snow machines
70 strobe lights
Lights: “Heck, I’m not going to count them.”
Source: Happyland Facebook page