WASHINGTON — Of all the Christmas season’s glorious sights, some are not so easily found. That’s where Holly Zell comes in.
The Merrifield resident calls herself “the de facto expert for tacky lights in Fairfax County.” She serves as something of a curator, and has singled out the area’s best displays on her website for more than a decade.
This time of year, of course, is busy for Zell. She’s been working hard to verify and update her list of 2018’s standout Christmas displays. (Check out the gallery below for some of those.) Once upon a time, she had to find them all herself. Nowadays, emailed tips help with the task.
Some of this year’s standouts in Virginia include:
This year, Zell has even begun to feature displays across the river in D.C. and Maryland.
Festive displays have evolved through the years — and Zell has a few thoughts about it all.
“I remember when they first had the inflatable things, and those suddenly appeared everywhere, and I initially was against those, because I like pretty lights,” she said.
“But now, you know, everybody does something different. Some do them with the inflatables. Some use blow molds. Some use lights. Some animate the lights. I like animated lights, but most of them that I come up against are flashy way, way too much.”
What gets a display on Zell’s nice list? It’s a simple, but somewhat vague, criterion.
“I can’t tell you what it is,” she said. “I just turn the corner and see it, and I know it instantly. It just hits me like a ton of bricks.”
And the display that has that je ne sais quoi? It’s one that has drawn national, televised acclaim in Alexandria.
“That is my personal favorite — always has been,” Zell said of the display at 1601 Collingwood Rd. “And now the world knows about it.”
Tips for light peepers
Zell has a few tips for those going out and taking in the sights.
Mid-December to Christmas is prime viewing time. “After Christmas, things start coming down,” she said. “Some of them the day after, some after [Jan. 1] and some go all the way through the 12 days of Christmas to Jan. 6 or 7 or even longer. But the majority of them will be down by Jan. 1.”
Make sure the forecast is favorable. “Rain and wind? A lot of these are bigger displays that are shut down for rain and wind because they just can’t handle it,” Zell said. “They just can’t handle bad weather of any sort.”
Stay out of the yard. Remember that some have extensive electrical wiring in the yards, and it could cause a fall, damage the display or worse.
Be nice. “Turn off your headlights when you stop to view — especially with an animated light show,” she said. “You’re probably going to sit there 10 to 20 minutes, so turn off your headlights so that you’re not disturbing the person in front of you.”
Two hours at a time. “I mean there’s only so many lights you can take at a time, and they all begin to blend together, and your eyes cross,” she said.
(See more tips and a detailed map on her website.)
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