Bismarck light fight
BY KRISTA RAUSCH
After 10 years of spreading holiday spirit through lights, music and candy canes, two homes on Bismarck’s Chestnut Drive are about to catch the attention of the entire nation.
On Dec. 11, the homes of Greg and Sharon Wilz and Gigi Wilz and Davina French will be featured on ABC’s Great Christmas Light Fight, a show that pits some of America’s most outlandishly decorated homes against each other in a contest for Christmas supremacy.
“We’re one of four teams that will compete in the neighborhood episode,” says Greg. “The competition is the best lights. You compete for this really beautiful, somewhat gaudy trophy and $50,000. We competed as a neighborhood, so we’ll split the money if we win.”
This isn’t the first time these neighbors have engaged a light fight, but it’s the first time they’ve competed as a team. Siblings Greg and Gigi have had their own competition going since 2006, when Gigi and Davina moved to Chestnut Drive.
“We couldn’t move into the house until after Christmas, but we were still using the ovens, because Greg was hosting Christmas. As we were driving up to pick up stuff out of the oven, I saw a small Charlie Brown Christmas tree with a sign that said, ‘You lost.’ So, I told him, ‘You just wait until next year!’ And it kind of started from there.”
In 2007, the competition really lit up.
“The competition was every day until Christmas,” says Greg. “We would sneak out at night and put new items up. The next day, when the lights went up, we would watch to see what they did.”
What started out as a sibling rivalry has become a labor of love – love for family, love for community and love for our nation’s veterans.
“We are all veterans out here,” says Davina. “Five out the of ten years that we’ve been doing this, there’s been someone deployed from one of our houses. The people of Bismarck and the surrounding area have been amazing in their support of us, fallen soldiers and the whole veteran package. It’s our way to say thank you.”
Every year, they spend countless hours preparing for the holiday season. Greg and Gigi design their own light displays and weld them from steel. It’s a skill Greg taught his younger sister.
In September, they begin setting up the displays, and it takes an army. “It’s amazing,” says Davina. “People volunteer every year to help. This whole contest has been filled with friends and family learning, eating and laughing together.
There’s a lot of laughter and spying on the neighbors to find out what the neighbors are doing.”
The displays include nearly 500,000 Christmas lights. It takes about 100 hours to program the lights for each song, and there are nine songs in the rotation. For a light sequence to work, the lights must be meticulously
placed on each display. If one strand of lights is out of place, it can mess up the show.
It’s a lot of work, but they all agree it’s worth it. “We take such great satisfaction in putting smiles on people’s faces,” says Greg. “It’s pretty awesome to know that you help people get in the Christmas spirit. It’s an awesome feeling.”
They do their best to greet everyone who comes to see lights, handing out candy canes as they share good tidings. Last year, they gave out 13,000 candy canes.
“We all find our way to contribute to make our community better – or we should,” says Gigi. “This is our way. It doesn’t fit for everybody, but it fits for us.”
For the third year in a row, Gigi will miss out on much the excitement. After returning from a two-year deployment to Bosnia this summer, she deployed to Puerto Rico to help manage the response to Hurricane Maria. But, in the few weeks she was home, she contributed her part to the holiday festivities, welding a 25-foot star tree and a believe sign in 95 degree heat.
“For years, we’ve wanted to do an outdoor ‘Believe’ display,” says Gigi. “Believe is a Davina word. It’s a word she has been using for years, because everything is bigger than we are.”
If bigger is better, the elaborately decorated homes on Chestnut Drive are ready to compete with the best. The battle for the best Christmas lights is officially on. Win or lose, the lights on Chestnut won’t disappoint. Built from one part sibling rivalry and three parts love, it’s a light show that mustn’t be missed.