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Printed Dec 24th, 2005 in the Athens Banner Herald

Bright Lights - One Athens man takes decorating to new heights

Christopher Philpot's holiday supply list reads something like this: A quarter-mile of extension chord, 10 rolls of electrical tape, 20 feet of safety wire, a tool belt filled with extra bulbs, a box of screws, a custom-built light tester, a box of silicone sealer, a screw gun and, oh yes, 43,100 Christmas lights

It is these supplies that help Philpot turn his East Athens home into a spectacular holiday lights display, complete with 10 Christmas trees (there's a 4-footer mounted on the front of Philpot's 4x4 truck), icicle lights and enough power to regularly send his circuit breakers into a tizzy.

Philpot began creating the displays seven years ago, a means by which to touch the lives of others during the holidays.

"I grew up on a farm way out in the middle of nowhere on a dead end road. My family didn't decorate because nobody drove past our house," said Philpot, who grew up in Rockmart. "My granddad would take me out and we'd drive around town. There were a few people in that little town that would decorate pretty loudly and I just loved that. To me, that's when Christmas started - driving around to see those Christmas lights. When I got older, I wanted to do that for some kid like me. I wanted them to look forward to seeing my lights."

Each November, Philpot begins his quest to decorate his home with as many lights as it can handle.

It's a quest that can take up to two weeks. Philpot works as an artist and graphic designer and must fit his decorating into his free time. Sometimes, it takes him up to 40 hours to lay all of the lights out.

"With mt side business and my graphic design work, a lot of times I'm out there at 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock in the morning trying to quietly move an extension ladder around to put on the lights", Philpot said. "It's usually dark by the time I get home to work on them, so it sometimes takes me two or three weeks to get them all up."

Philpot also spends time planning each year's display. He rotates the lights from year to year - a month of sunlight can fade the strands - and relies on drawings to plan the display, where plugs should be located and calculations of how much electricity each breaker can bear.

"Most of the breakers in the house are 15 amp breakers, so I kind of do the math and distribute (the lights) and try to get as close to that without going over," Philpot said. "It's sort of like 'The Price is Right'."

With a plan in hand, Christopher (and a few generous friends and neighbors) get to work placing the 40,000-plus lights on the Christopher's Southeast Athens home, located in the Woods of Habersham neighborhood. At times, the decorating can get a bit tricky, as Philpot puts lights on his roofs, windows, bushes and just about everything else in his yard.

"At times, I have had to park my truck in the back yard, tie a rope off to the truck and actually repel off of the roof. I try not to do that when no one's home, but there have been a few occasions where I've just had no choice, because of time," Philpot said. "I have put a motorcycle helmet on, tied up a repelling harness, thrown a rope over the roof, tied it to the truck and then run all over the roof like Spider-man, trying to hook lights up."

Christopher's holiday decorating also runs into their home, where some nine holiday trees (including a Miami Vice tribute tree and a 15-foot, custom-built Christmas tree featuring mementos of Christopher's travels) are displayed.

By now, you're probably wondering where everything goes. "My entire attic is strictly storage of Christmas lights," Philpot said. "When they're out, they fill up a two-car garage."

First, there are the power issues. "(The display is) actually sort of limited by the electrical grid of the house. I've got right at 43,000 lights rolling right now, but I actually own probably over 80,000. I've just got cases in the garage," Philpot said. "I put different ones up at different times and I just can't plug them (all) in because, as it is now, I have to turn them off before I can open up my garage. I've maxed this house out to the point where even turning the microwave on is likely to throw a breaker."

Christopher also have to make changes in the display during inclement weather. "When it rains, water gets into the light fixtures, it causes resistance, raises the amperage and circuits start blowing," he said. "So I balance stuff out. I generally keep a bunch of extension cords on hand. For instance, if I know people are coming by or if something happens and something does blow, I'll re-route a couple of cords into the few extra outlets here and there just to kind of balance the load out."

Then, there is the expense of running the lights, and making regular jaunts to stores for more lights. "The electric bill is a jump, but it's all worth it," said Philpot, who preferred to keep secret the price of his display. "It's a weekend at the beach or my Christmas lights. My Christmas lights last a month so I go with the Christmas lights every year. It's entirely worth it to me."

Placing more than 40,000 lights on their home also brings some curious visitors to Christopher's door. Some guests bring gifts and thank you cards. Others simply want a closer look.

"At 2 o'clock in the morning, somebody will just come and look in my window. People will park their cars and get out and walk around the yard," Philpot said. "You'll just be watching television, look up and there's somebody peering in your window, looking at your Christmas tree. It doesn't really bother me - it's kind of weird and sort of creepy at times, but I put all this up for a public spectacle, so I can't complain at all."

The fact other people take time out to see Philpot's lights is part of the reason he continues to display his lights collection each year."The best part for me is when kids will tell me that this is part of their Christmas," Philpot said. "When I think about 20 years from now, people are going to think back and say, 'Yeah, when I was a little kid, there was this house that had all these Bluelights on it' - being a part of someone else's Christmas tradition is my favorite part."

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