Above: The Krawczyk family light display this year includes a tribute to Sid Ortis. (Alabama NewsCenter/Fletcher Harvey)
Looking back on it, the first year was a bit disappointing.
“We started with 50 strands,” Craig Krawczyk says. “It was pretty small. We just threw up whatever we could.”
That was 1999 when, at the behest of his soon-to-be mother-in-law Mary Ann Garrison, Krawczyk and the Garrison clan decided to go all Clark Griswold for the holidays – stringing up enough Christmas lights and decorations at the holiday to put even Griswold’s display in “Christmas Vacation” to shame.
That display grew for 10 years on Virginia Road, and it lives on at 214 Beech St., where Krawczyk and his wife, Meg, estimate they have 35,000 lights and assorted inflatables in their front yard.
“This has definitely always been a family affair, but I did always swear these lights would never be at my house,” says Meg, Garrison’s daughter. The display moved to Beech Street in 2010 after Garrison’s death, and it has become a holiday staple in the Crestline neighborhood.
This year, in addition to the “War Eagle” emblazoned on the roof, the display includes a tribute to Sid Ortis, the Mountain Brook teen whose battle against cancer rallied the Mountain Brook community and LSU football coach Les Miles. Ortis died in October, and Parker Garrison, the Krawczyks’ nephew, suggested the holiday tribute.
“He texted Craig and said, ‘We normally hang the “AU” up, but what if we make a sign for Sid?,” Meg says. “We thought it was a great idea. … He certainly changed this community, his family fighting that battle with such grace. It’s such an inspiration.”
Here are some things to know about the Krawczyks’ Christmas lights display, which will be up until New Year’s Day and turned on from about 5 p.m.-11 p.m. each night:
- Be careful what you wish for: Mary Ann Garrison’s penchant for Christmas decorating came late in life, her daughter says. “She was always an incredible gift-giver … but as far as decorating the house, there wasn’t a lot of that,” Meg says. “We used to put the tree in the back of the house, and I complained as a kid that no one even knew we celebrated Christmas. We certainly made up for lost time.”
- It’s a family affair: The Krawczyks (including daughters Margaret, Emily and Alice Kate) don’t do it alone. They’re aided by Meg’s brother, Sims Garrison, his wife, Alicia, and their children, Parker and Kathryn.
- No fair-weather fans: Even after Auburn’s less-than-stellar season, the Krawczyks are showing their Tiger pride, with “War Eagle” in lights across their roof. “Of course!” says Meg, who, like Craig, graduated from Auburn. “We don’t care. No matter what, we love Auburn.”
- Clark Griswold lives: Craig is the master of the lighting plan. He has diagrams of the yard and has installed a separate power source just to handle the lights. He says they’ve been surprised by their December power bill, which isn’t astronomical. “It’s almost equivalent to what a summer air conditioning bill would be,” he says.
- Friendly neighbors: One neighbor puts up cones so people won’t park in front of her house, but other than that, the Krawczyks’ neighborhood has embraced the holiday tradition – even the Alabama fans. “On either side of me are Alabama people,” Meg says, laughing. “I’m sure they don’t want to look at it, but too bad.” Says Craig: “The neighbors have all been very good about it. If anybody is troubled by it, it hasn’t gotten back to us.”
- Prime location: The best seat in the house for the Krawczyks’ light display is, well, in the house. Especially for the Krawczyks’ daughters, ages 6, 8 and 11. “They love it,” Meg says. “Two of them share a bedroom in the front of the house where they can see it. They love to fall asleep looking out the window.”
- Same time, next year: Come the end of the season, the Krawczyks will pack up the lights, put their inflatables in bins and store the Christmas display in their basement and garage. “All of the special inflatables go back in their box, and the lights go back in their packages, too,” Meg says. “Craig is very organized with his plan.” The weekend after Halloween, they’ll come out again, and friends and family will help set them up for four weekends. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, when the lights are turned on, the Griswold house of Beech Street will once again be ablaze.