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Flowery Branch residents light up night with Christmas sights, sounds
Ley Hathcock and Jerry Huffman spend days constructing holiday displays
A 9-foot TIE fighter from Star Wars is one of the many creations that can be seen at the Hathcocks' light display at their Flowery Branch home. The light show takes between 20 and 40 hours to program the show synced with music and flashing lights. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Hathcock Christmas on the Hill

When: 6-10 p.m. nightly, weather permitting

Where: 6711 Willowbrook Trail, Flowery Branch

More info:

There Goes the Light Bill

When: 5-11 p.m. nightly

Where: 6473 Samoa Way, Flowery Branch

More info:

Creating a spectacular light display takes devotion and time — a lot of time.

To be precise, it takes four days to set up and another 20 to 40 hours to sync with music for Flowery Branch resident Ley Hathcock. And he is not the only one.

Just down the road, Jerry Huffman spends two weeks setting up his display and a day or two programming the music.

But both men construct the elaborate Christmas displays to entertain neighbors and celebrate the season.

“It’s a special holiday and a time when we can focus on things that are important ... and making people smile,” Hathcock said. “If we can achieve that by putting lights and music in our yard, then we’ve met our goal.”

At Huffman’s house at 6473 Samoa Way, his front lawn showcases four singing Christmas trees that play for an hour-and-a-half.

Two miles away at 6711 Willowbrook Trail, Hathcock’s light display is synced to eight songs for a 20-minute show. And this year’s newest addition — he’s created the display for eight years — features Star Wars, including a 9-foot TIE fighter.

Hathcock’s 20-year-old son, Andrew, helps him set up the display, which takes four days plus another two for the music. His 23-year-old daughter, Aly, helps, too.

The newest installment is a departure from his conservative Christmas light display he devised while living in Virginia years ago. He said it consisted of only white lights and a single candle in each window.

“I don’t think we could go back to that,” he said.

Hathcock explained in Richmond, Va., there were two types of Christmas light displays: very conservative or all-out-tackiness. After being exposed to both sides, he decided to switch when he moved to Georgia.

But his first display in Flowery Branch started with a simple idea inspired by an electronic greeting card. The card had some funny reindeer characters on it, and Hathcock set out to weld those characters. The reindeer are 5- to 6-feet wide and 5-feet tall. Then he animated them.

“The kids in the neighborhood liked them so much, it kind of just grew from there,” he said, guessing he has just shy of 40,000 light bulbs in the display. “We’re certainly not the biggest. We don’t focus on numbers or lights. We focus on it being enjoyable and having fun with it.”

Some of the kids who enjoy the show are students from nearby elementary schools. And Hathcock knows some personally. He is principal at Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science and his wife, Cherie, is a teacher at Flowery Branch Elementary School.

“Some nights there’s 10 to 20 cars that stop and watch the show,” Hathcock said. “Some nights there’s a couple hundred. It varies.”

The show repeats every night, weather permitting, from 6-10 p.m. Anyone may watch the show, although they are encouraged to stay in their car and tune their radios to 107.7 to hear the musical accompaniment. Santa also makes appearances in the yard between 6 and 8 p.m. on occasion.

The show is free to watch. However, donations are accepted to benefit Operation Smile, a charity that sponsors surgery for children born with cleft palates and cleft lips.

“It’s a charity that’s near and dear to our hearts, and it has to do with making kids smile,” Hathcock said.

His neighbors, by and large, love his display and have been tolerant of the lights themselves as well as the visitors. But it had an even bigger impact on his neighbor Jerry Huffman.

Huffman said he considers Hathcock his mentor, teaching him how to sync lights and sound for his own singing Christmas tree show.

But Hathcock’s show was not his inspiration. Huffman said he became interested in Christmas light shows after watching a video on YouTube.

“I thought it was really cool,” he said.

Later, the two men met for dinner where Huffman quizzed Hathcock about his Christmas display. Then he went online to find materials to build his own display.

Now, for the second year in a row, Huffman’s show features a 20-foot-tall Christmas tree accompanied by four singing trees made out of foam core with lights. Huffman uses computer software to program their eye and mouth movements. The retired national sales manager said his seventh-grade grandson helped him set up the show this year.

Huffman explained he’s found time to pursue hobbies such as decorating for the holidays that he didn’t have time for previously. And he enjoys it.

“To me it’s just fun, and the people that see it think it’s fun,” he said.

His show runs from 5-11 p.m. nightly.