For a person who really didn’t like hanging Christmas lights when he was a child, Chuck Downs has made a big turnaround. His family’s holiday lights display in Norman has become such a huge event that it was featured in ABC’s Great Christmas Light Fight in 2013.
Downs enjoyed participating in the show, but says it was hectic.
“It really didn’t seem like a competition, but was geared more towards showing the TV audience how crazy ‘Christmas people’ like us truly can be,” he says.
“Crazy” is debatable; “charitable” is not. The Downs family’s light display has raised money and food for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma since 2008. That first year, guests contributed enough canned goods for 8,201 meals and $598 in cash. Last year, the Downs family turned over more than $38,000 in donations (thanks to matching funds from Chesapeake Energy) and 9,588 pounds of food.
Since the Downs family began collecting for the food bank, the funds and food contributions to date have produced 911,695 meals. This year, the Downs family hopes to break the one-million-meals mark.
Downs says he and his wife, Kim, chose the Regional Food Bank as beneficiary “primarily because we knew they had the capacity to handle the food and cash that our donations will generate, and that they are the food source for so many other local charities.”
Community is important to Downs, and it’s one of the main reasons he goes through the time-consuming ritual of building displays each year.
“Christmas memories are timeless, and we want to create special memories for our community,”
“We want to provide an outlet in which our community can come together and help one another during the holiday season,” he says.
The Downs’ lights display features more than 280,000 lights, 18 miles of light strands and 13 miles of extension cords. In the yard, 70-feet-tall trees are lit with light strands weighing in total around 800 pounds. All the lights and features are synchronized by software and hardware controls spread throughout the yard. Plus, there’s music.
The intricate home holiday lights display
attracts onlookers not only in the local community and Norman, but visitors from around the region.
“Christmas memories are timeless, and we want to create special memories for our community,” Downs says. “We don’t really know why, but the combination of lights and music creates a lasting memory for everybody who has seen the display.”
Although his childhood Christmas displays were nothing like what Downs puts on now, he says he and his family have grown to enjoy the extensive task and surpassing expectations. They also like to see what others create each year.
“I think each year we appreciate Christmas lights more and more. And the displays don’t have to be crazy like ours, either,” he says. “We simply love seeing houses decorated for the season. It’s definitely the best time of the year to be out driving around town.”
The Downs Christmas lights display switched on Nov. 27 and runs through Jan. 3. The display is on from 6 p.m. to midnight every night (except on New Year’s Eve, when the display runs until 1 a.m.). The Downs home is located at 2900 72nd Ave. SE in Norman. As always, onlookers are asked to bring canned food items, which will be donated to help fellow Oklahomans.