MS. REBECCA SHEIR
While we're on the subject of holiday spectacular spectaculars, you know how in every neighborhood, there's like that one house that has Christmas lights covering every available surface? Maybe there's even like a life-sized Santa and reindeer floating above the roof? Well, at one house in Northwest D.C., this tradition goes all the way back to the 1960s, when a charismatic religious leader wanted to bring light to a city in need of Christmas cheer. Jacob Fenston has the story.
MR. JACOB FENSTON
When George Ford, Jr. was a kid growing up in Washington, he used to love going to see the Christmas displays in department store windows, stores like Hecht's, downtown.
MR. GEORGE FORD JR.
Early years in Washington, D.C., the department stores had, around Christmas time, beautiful display, where the children would go and just 'ahhh' and swoon over the mannequins in the window. And after the riots, of course, that was no more.
The 1968 riots, after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the Hecht's flagship store on 7th Street was one of hundreds of businesses damaged in the violence. In the years following, the Christmas displays downtown just weren't the same. So the Bishop of Ford's church decided to put on a Christmas display of his own.
He wanted for those children who had no place to go to see this kind of lights, like they used to do.
The bishop was Walter McCollough, who led the D.C. based faith, the United House of Prayer for All People, for more than 30 years. The Christmas lights began as a few strands on the bishop's house, and evolved over the years into a massive display with lights on every part of the house, every tree and shrub. Ford is a lifelong member and apostle in the church, and has been involved in decorating the bishop's house since the very beginning.
We have teams, and they're assigned to do certain phases of the project.
So the lights go kind of all the way up the hill behind the house.
Yeah, come on.
There's a Santa on a sleigh, a manger scene, and lots and lots of angels. Ford says last time they tried to count the lights, there was something like half a million of them. The bishop's house is in the leafy northern tip of the city, near Silver Spring. The Christmas display is a local institution, drawing thousands of parents and kids each year. Stopping here is a family tradition for many, spanning generations, as well as religions and ethnicities.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1
Yeah, we usually come every year.
How many years, do you know, how many years have you been coming?
I believe, like, around 15 years. Yeah.
MR. JOSIMAR TAYLOR
I've been coming here since I was like 10, since like '97. Yeah, December '97. Yeah, my family brought me out here, straight out. I'm from Panama, so they wanted to show me the house with the lights. At first I was like, huh? The house with the lights? As soon as we pulled up, I was like, wow. It's the house with the lights.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1
I've been here when I was a baby.
How old are you now?
I'm 8. It's fun to see Christmas lights. And I love Christmas, and I love getting presents, and it's just beautiful.
MR. TOM ROSZKOWSKI
I'm 41 years old now, so I've been coming here basically my whole life, and seeing these lights every year. So now I share it with my kids.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2
I like the manger.
MR. ROBERT WOODS
It takes me back to my childhood, you know, because things have gotten so commercialized with Christmas now. This takes me back to, you know, when we sang "Silent Night" and it meant something.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2
I know this area for a long time, and I used to bring my children. Now I brought my granddaughter.
MS. FRAN ALVES
Tell him what you saw...
You saw a camel, and the ark and cows, and baby Jesus.
And baby Jesus.
Yes. Tell him that it's very festive.
And that you enjoy seeing all the lights.
I enjoy seeing all the lights.
Makes you happy, doesn't it? I have been coming here for years, since my daughter, my daughter is 30, so I get excited. This makes me excited, it gets me ready for the holiday season. From a religious standpoint, you think about Heaven and how glorious it is, and this is only a piece of it. It's just, it's beautiful.
Those were the voices of parents and kids outside the bishop's house, including Fran Alves and her 2-year-old grandson.
I'm Christian Arevalo.
Also, Thomas Sathyanathan, Robert Woods, Tom Roszkowski and his kids Decker and Gray.
Look how big I am.
Josimar Taylor, Brianna Acevedo and Getachew Mekonnen. The Christmas lights will be up through the beginning of January, but if you miss them this year, there's always next year, and the year after, and the year after. I’m Jacob Fenston.
If you can't get out to North Portal Drive, you can still check out the lights on the bishop's house. We have photos on our website, metroconnection.org. Also, we want to know where the big light displays are in your neighborhood. Send us an email. Our address is email@example.com.
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