If your idea of holiday decorations is screwing a green bulb into your front porch light and taping a red ribbon to your mailbox, perhaps this Christmas-loving couple will inspire you to kick it up a notch or two. Scott and Jennifer Cockroft spend considerably more time, energy, and yes — money — decorating their Bartlett home for the holidays.
The result is thousands of lights draped over their house and trees, inflatable Ferris wheels and seesaws spinning and moving, "Merry Christmas" and other messages spelled out in flashing lights, and animated figures — reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and others — dancing across their lawn. A still photograph doesn't do justice to the entire spectacle, since the lights are computer programmed to flash in sequence to Christmas carols broadcast over a transmitter so visitors can listen in their cars.
Scott is the owner of Advanced Systems alarm company, and his electronics background certainly comes in handy for their Christmas extravaganza.
"I grew up in East Memphis, and had loved Christmas lights all my life," he says. "We began putting them on our own house, pretty simple at first, and then started animating them in 2005. Things really took off from there."
The Cockrofts were inspired by lighting designs and how-to videos they found on the website planetchristmas.com. They learned where to buy some of the more expensive components, such as the computer controller, and Scott taught himself welding so he could form the elaborate wire frames for the figures and "Merry Christmas" lettering.
"There's really a whole sub-culture of people out there who do these things," says Scott, noting that holiday decorating has gotten very high-tech. "A company called Lightarama sells controls and hardware, and the Planet Christmas website has really been helpful." Afterwards, the Cockrofts even post movies of their displays on YouTube (search "Cockroft Christmas Lights" for scenes from previous years).
Christmas 2009 will be a special challenge, because five months ago the Cockrofts moved to a new home in Bartlett with a larger yard and more trees. "So many people came by our old house that we asked the new owners to put a sign in their yard directing people to this house," says Jennifer. "It's really neat that everyone gets so much pleasure out of it."
While Scott works on the lighting, Jennifer programs the music. "We listen to Christmas music year-round so we can decide what to play," she says. "The whole thing is sequenced to the music, and it looks pretty crazy if you don't hear the songs."
In the past, Jennifer has picked tunes from television specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas , but "the over-reaching theme is Christ being the center of Christmas," she says. "Often people tend to overlook that."
Scott says he starts with a basic plan, then just keeps adding lights and other elements until he's satisfied. The main component is something he calls a "megatree" — essentially a tall pole with so many strings of lights stretching down from it that it resembles a glowing Christmas tree. Other, much smaller, trees will be scattered throughout the yard, and in his workshop Scott shows the secret to how they are formed: hundreds of colored lights wrapped around cone-shaped tomato plant holders. There's so much work involved that he starts the day after Halloween, so the lights can be switched on the day after Thanksgiving.
The Cockrofts buy most of their supplies online, and Jennifer notes they save money by buying lights at after-the-holidays sales, "where we just bring home pallets of Wal-Mart lights." All these items are stored (and carefully color-coded) in their spacious workshop throughout the year. "We have so much that we don't even use all of it," says Jennifer, "but just pick what we need from year to year."
And as anyone who has dealt with Christmas lights knows, sometimes there are glitches. "Last year we had a lot of rain, and some things kept shorting out," says Jennifer. "People would call and say, 'Your nativity scene isn't working,' and we'd sigh and say, 'We know' and get out there and fix it."
So what does all this cost?
"We really haven't kept track of it," says Scott. "If we really knew how much we spent — oh, we don't even want to know."
The Cockroft home is located at 3818 Planters View in Bartlett.