Oh watt fun

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First Posted: 12/14/2014

Santa won’t need Rudolph’s nose to find this house.

With 601,736 lights, the Gay family of Union Vale, New York has reclaimed the record for the largest residential holiday light display in the world.

With a total of 35 miles of outside wire, the ERDAJT Holiday Light Display consists of nine stars, eight leaping circles, 49 wire-framed animals, 81 fence trees and tons of other display elements that are all synchronized to music.

The family previously held the record in 2012 with 346,283 lights, but the Richard family from Australia took the title away last year with an impressive 502,165 lights.

Family patriarch Tim Gay said regaining the title wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the holiday installation of more than 180,000 lights Ritz Crackers donated.

“The only reason we got the record back was because Ritz contacted me and asked me if I wanted it,” Gay said. “They were super cool and fun. I never would have went for the record without them. “

Named for his children, Emily Raejean, Daniel Arthur and John Timothy, Gay’s light display began in 1995, the year Emily was born. But, it really started to take off in 2001 with some assistance from his brother, Brian.

“He had been here in 2000 and we made him help us put up lights. Back then, we put them out on the trees by the road. So, when he came back in ‘01, on Thanksgiving Day, I said, ‘Come do the lights’, and he said, ‘Not if you put them out on those trees. I’ll help if you put them around the pond,’ Gay said. “Back then, we only had 7,000 lights. Once we saw how beautiful the reflection was, I wanted more lights. So, it all just kind of happened.”

The display also honors his father John, brother Steve, and sister, Ellie, all whom passed from cancer between 2001-2004.

Over time, as word of the display spread, Gay and his sons had to begin directing traffic. Now, especially on weekends, there can be up to a three-mile line of cars waiting for a first-hand view.

“We drove through the first time, but it’s great to get out of the car and walk through and get up close and personal,” said Shannon Dunlap of Carmel. Dunlap was there with her 10-year-old daughter, Theresa. “What this family does is so charitable. Not many people are like that anymore.”

Dunlap is referring to the fact the Gay family hasn’t accepted any money toward the costs of running the display. Instead, they asked the all-volunteer Union Vale Fire Company to accept the donations they’ve turned away.

“Tim approached us four years ago and told us people wanted to give him money for the display because they enjoyed it so much. But, he didn’t want to take it,” said past chief Carlos Mina. “So, we’ve been here accepting donations for our community support fund.”

So far, that fund has received an estimated $80,000 and Gay expects they’ll collect close to $30,000 more by the time the display comes down on Dec. 30. Fund recipients have included cancer patients, victims of fires and domestic violence and other community organizations. On Dec. 12-13 alone, the firemen collected $8,479 for The Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie. The Home provides a range of services and programs to abused and neglected children.

“One year, many years ago before the fire company was collecting, someone threw a bunch of change on our steps. I swept it into the gravel and told my young sons don’t ever touch it. It’s still buried under the driveway today,” Gay said. “I don’t take any money because this was born out of the gratitude I felt for being a father. Not for any personal gain.”