For nearly 30 years, the Gaddy family’s Christmas Lights Extravaganza has been lighting up smiles brighter than the wattage in the thousands of festive bulbs in their drive-through winter wonderland. Now, the rest of the country knows the tradition that Fayette holds so dear.
When the new season of ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight show kicked off Monday night, the Gaddy family took center stage. Anxious months since filming in October were spent waiting to see the finished product, and what better way to celebrate than with loved ones. A packed house full of Gaddy family and friends gathered at the Tyrone Wings & Things, which graciously stayed open an hour late to accommodate the crew.
“We were thrilled. We were completely thrilled with the way they presented us,” said Gwen Gaddy of watching themselves on TV. “We signed a 25-page contract telling them that basically we had no rights on our own property for four days. You put your reputation in their hands.”
She was especially happy with how they highlighted her husband, Mike, and the different mechanisms he creates from discarded pieces to make some of the displays move.
“That is so him,” she said. “I knew that they would pick the things that were the most homemade. Of course that’s what Mike’s known for, his ability to make something out of nothing.”
They didn’t win the trophy and the $50,000 grand prize, but they still consider themselves winners for the experience.
“Everybody that gets on the show wants to win, there’s no doubt about it,” she said. “I was planning a Disney cruise for 12. I wanted to take the whole family, but it really isn’t about that in the end. Just the fact that they showed us in a nice light makes us very happy.”
No gaudy trophy for the mantle could measure up to gratitude so many in the community feel towards the Gaddy family. For so many years, they have opened up their home with the public just to share the Christmas spirit.
“We have three great kids. We’ve had a great life together, and it’s something we enjoy doing together,” she said. “It’s just turned into this monster, a good kind of monster.
“It’s a feel-good thing. We have just been so blessed with a community that has welcomed it for all these years,” she said. “It’s a way to feel like you’re giving back to something and you’re making a difference in some way for somebody’s holiday.”
Many people want to chip in, but that’s not the point.
“Everybody for all these years has wanted to throw money out the window at us and try to pay the electric bill. We never did accept that,” she said. “That’s not why we did it. We did it because we like doing it.”
The gratification comes in knowing they’re bringing smiles to so many faces and have been for a long time.
“When they tell you that you’ve been part of their family’s traditions for umpteen years, that is a pretty good feeling. It’s all worth it at that point.”
In recent years, they have asked their visitors to chip in with a couple of charitable causes. With their Toys for Tots drive, they help make sure families that are struggling have something to put under the tree. Last year, the donation box on the Gaddy route was responsible for 23 percent of all the toys collected in Fayette County.
“It’s such a joy seeing those toys come in and know they’re going to people that would normally not have a very great Christmas.”
Last Friday night, they hosted their annual Toys for Tots event where they are joined by the Marines. The family usually dresses up as elves while they give out trinkets and candy canes to the kids who bring a toy to donate. Most years, their event brings in around 800 toys of their average 2,500 toy haul for the season. This years was extra special with 1,175 cars rolling through over the course of the evening.
“We didn’t even come off the driveway until after midnight,” said Gwen. “I was just blown away that people were willing to sit that long.”
For even more personal reasons, the March of Dimes is a cause closely tied to the Gaddy lights. Five years ago, their daughter Brandy gave birth to twins prematurely. Sadly, they lost one twin, Brady, at just three months. Part of the light display is the “Fishin’ Cuzuns” pond where there is a figure for each of the Gaddy grandkids, including Brady.
“Whatever Brady is doing in heaven, I want him to look down and see we’re keeping him involved with the family,” said Mike.
Brady’s passing led the family to become the March of Dimes ambassador for Fayette County. They accept donations as part of the light display from the night they flip the switch on until they go dark on January 1.
“It has been unbelievable what we have been able to give to March of Dimes,” Gwen said of the $56,000 they have raised in the last three years.
Each year at the March of Dimes kickoff event, the surviving twin, Taylor, presents a check for all the funds raised.
“It’s always a really emotional experience. It’s been very much a healing thing for our family to be able to do that.”
During the season of giving, please consider helping the Gaddy family share the love with a donation to either Toys for Tots or March of Dimes or both. The Christmas Lights Extravaganza is located at 898 Sandy Creek Road. The drive-thru display is up and open to the public every year from Thanksgiving night through January 1.