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'Mr. Christmas' of Richmond, Virginia is ready to retire his holiday lights


Holiday decorations are up across the country, and every year, there are some people who just go all out. Wherever you live, you probably know who they are. Well, in Richmond, Va., there are dozens of homes on the Tacky Lights Tour. And none compare to the spectacular spectacle that is the home of Mr. Christmas, otherwise known as Frank Hudak. He has dazzled his neighborhood for about five decades. But now, he says, the time has come to dim those lights. Frank Hudak joins me now. Welcome to the program.

FRANK HUDAK: Well, thank you, Sarah. I appreciate you having me on.

MCCAMMON: So first of all, what do you think makes your home so outstanding? I mean, I understand people come from all over Virginia, all over the country, even the world, to see it. Why?

HUDAK: I wish I could give you a definitive answer - except for the fact that I think Christmas lights bring out the warmth and the love in people. I would like to impart love to everyone who comes by. If gives you a warm fuzzy - let's put it that way.

MCCAMMON: If we were to drive by tonight, what would we see? What does this look like?

HUDAK: Well, the first thing you do is you pull your aviator sunglasses out of the console...

MCCAMMON: (Laughter).

HUDAK: ...Because when you turn the corner, we're dead at the end of a cul-de-sac. I've got trees that are 85 feet tall, and I've got the lights up 65 feet into those trees. And they're all blinking and twinkling and what have you. It just grabs you.

MCCAMMON: OK, I have to ask how your neighbors feel about this.

HUDAK: You know, it's Christmas. And my neighbors are on board with it. There's not a problem whatsoever. Once in a while, we have traffic problems. Once in a while - probably a lot a while. But I'm on the fourth generation of people that are coming to see the lights.

MCCAMMON: I understand that you've made a few of your decorations by hand.


MCCAMMON: What are some of your favorite things?

HUDAK: Well, I designed and built a church.

MCCAMMON: A church made of lights?

HUDAK: Well, no, actually, what I did was I sat down, and I drew out a pattern with some exterior plywood. And I'm not a carpenter. So I dabbled and dabbled and dabbled until I built a small, wooden church. Inside, I put three-different-colored lights. So when they light, it makes it look like they're stained-glass windows. I also built several different stars, every size star you can imagine from about a 14-inch to a 7-foot. I know - folks now are saying, well, what's going to happen to Mr. Christmas and Christmas House? Well, we are moving it next door. The house adjacent to mine - he's a younger fella who - the bug has bitten him. And he is out there - he's got almost a hundred thousand lights as well.

MCCAMMON: So this is a viral contagion that you have going on...

HUDAK: Yeah.

MCCAMMON: ...In your neighborhood.

HUDAK: So this is a transference of the baton. Mr. Christmas is not going away. I will continue to work with children, retirement communities, schools. We do Shop With A Cop through the Fraternal Order of Police. I also work with the Police Athletic League as well. So I will still be out there. I will not fade away that quickly. It's just that at my age - and I am 80 years old - it's a little difficult getting up and down the ladders.

MCCAMMON: Your light display has raised money for the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls over the years.

HUDAK: That's correct.

MCCAMMON: How did that come about? And why was it important, Frank, to you that your decorations, you know, support a cause?

HUDAK: OK. Well, many years ago, when I was a child up in Pennsylvania, I became enamored with Father Flanagan's Boys Town out in Nebraska because he helped children. And I always thought to myself, if I were ever able to do that, I would like to do that. And the first year, without advertising or anything, you know, we collected $1,400 dollars, which I thought was fantastic. So I've been working with them ever since. And so far, we've been very fortunate because, to date - now, that's to date; we're not through the season yet - we've raised about $175,000.

MCCAMMON: So what's next for you?

HUDAK: Well, I - as I said before, Mr. Christmas is not going away. So I'm not going to be doing the major display any longer. I will keep a couple of the stars up. And I'd like to encourage young people to decorate. We started out - there were three of us on the Tacky Light Tour, and it has expanded and expanded and expanded. And that tickles me. I just love it.

MCCAMMON: Frank Hudak is Richmond's Mr. Christmas. Thanks so much for joining us.

HUDAK: Thank you for your interest. I do appreciate it very much. I would like to wish everyone the warmest and the brightest Christmas ever. And to all, a good night.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCE GUARALDI TRIO'S "SKATING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.