Merry and bright

One couple's Christmas display has been drawing admirers to their Columbia street for 25 years

December 18, 2005|By TYRONE RICHARDSON | TYRONE RICHARDSON,SUN REPORTER

Children smile and look in amazement when they visit the Colby house in Columbia.

They watch Santa's elves busily make toys as Christmas carols fill the nighttime air. They marvel at the display of Santa and his reindeer soaring toward the Colby's chimney.

"Does Santa live here?" some children have asked.

The house, at 6428 Deep Calm in Owen Brown village, belongs to Butch and Barbara Colby, aka Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus - a title derived from the couple's Christmas spirit and the more than 55,000 Christmas lights illuminating their corner property.

That would help explain the letters addressed to Santa in the Colby mailbox.

"I mostly do [the decorations] for the look on the kids' faces," said Butch Colby, 62.

When Colby was a youngster, he loved looking at the array of holiday lights at his uncle's house in Minnesota. He started hanging decorations in 1980.

That year, Colby strung a modest few thousand lights. Today, there is a 50-foot-tall spruce tree in the front yard with roughly 3,500 lights alone.

In addition, the property has themes of Santa's workshop and the North Pole, with penguins and a miniature house with Santa sleeping. And, if you get closer, you can hear Santa's deep snore.

Colby and crew - relatives, friends and neighbors - spend three weekends in November preparing the landscape. A lighting ceremony is held on the first weekend in December, and the celebration usually draws hundreds, including Santa on a firetruck handing out candy canes.

Colby has added about 15,000 lights this year. And as the number of lights increases each December, so does the electric bill - an additional $500 for the month, he said.

The attraction has become a holiday tradition in Columbia, drawing crowds from all over.

Frank and Barbara Kemp of Ashton in Montgomery County parked their car on Deep Calm and looked at the lights with a sense of amazement.

"My son told me about this, and I just came here to see this," said Frank Kemp, 80. "This is just such an amazing display, and the kids would just go crazy with this - I have to bring some of my grandkids here, they would just love this."

The holiday decorations also have made an impression on passengers landing at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. One year, an airline passenger decided to visit Colby's house for a closer view.

"The guy came by and said he was flying into BWI airport and he saw my house from the airplane," Colby said. "He said he knew it was in Columbia, and he just stopped at a nearby gas station and asked where I was."

Neighbor Elaine Cibelli, 56, enjoys the attraction on her ride past the house each day.

"It's a joy every year that somebody would celebrate Christmas and open [their house] up for all the children," she said.

The attraction increases traffic flow on the normally quiet cul-de-sac, something not unexpected.

"It's the same as when the [community] pool is open - there is going to be additional traffic - but you just adjust accordingly," Cibelli said.

Colby, father of three grown children, said he has no plans to stop the tradition.

"It's been fun doing it, and I love it when the kids come by," said Colby, who sells computer simulators used to train power plant operators. "I go outside sometimes when people are out there and I talk with them."

tyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

Directions

From U.S. 29, take Broken Land Parkway east toward Owen Brown village.

Turn left at Cradlerock Way.

Go less than a mile to Windharp Way.

Turn left on Windharp and go a block to Deep Calm. the house is at the intersection.

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