By Peter Daining
Every night of December, the Hughes family might as well wear sunglasses to look outside.
Matt Hughes has added one new component to his Christmas display for the last 20 years. What started as a well-lit front yard has turned into a high-tech annual production: The Hughes Musical Christmas Show.
You can ask Hughes how many lights he has, but at this point, he can only estimate.
“We stopped counting at 20,000,” he said. “I gave up counting. What amazes me though is that we have more than a mile of extension cords.”
There are great Christmas displays all around West Michigan this time of year, but few go as far as the Hughes family to create a winter wonderland that has become a destination for his Zeeland neighbors and others around the region.
He had to rewire his home at 10679 Deer Ridge Ct. a few years ago to accommodate the electric load, and he actually spends more hours programming the show than setting it up. It’s gotten to the point where he can’t do it alone.
His father, Jerry Hughes, has spent just about as much time as Matt on the show this year. Matt’s 16-year-old daughter Riley helps with the programming, and his wife Nora and 12-year-old son Carter also pitch in.
Hundreds of people drive by each night to see the show, and Christmas Eve is usually the busiest. The Hughes family passes out candy canes that night.
“It’s great that my family tradition gets to be a part of other people’s family traditions,” Matt Hughes said.
This year, Matt’s new component is his biggest ever. It’s a 16-foot, 1,600-light tree. Each of the lights can change to any color, and each one is individually programmable. Hughes is proud that his display is 100 percent handmade, even this high-tech tree.
“It’s effectively a TV screen,” he said. “I can make it do almost anything I want it to do.”
The Hughes’s light show has its own Facebook page, and the comments give a sense of how much people enjoy it. Last year, one neighbor said it sends Christmas cheer around Zeeland.
“It is great once again. We loved it!” she said. “The music set to the lights is awesome! The kids loved it as well as us adults.”
Another mom said she had a hard time getting her daughter to leave at the end of the evening.
“My kids would stay there all night if I’d let them!” she said. “My youngest wants to move in across the street so she can watch them every night.”
In recent years, the Hughes family has also used their Christmas show as a fundraiser. They’ve raised thousands of dollars for local nonprofits. This year, they’re raising money for Hand to Hand, which provides food for disadvantaged students to put in their backpacks and take home for dinner. Last December, they raised enough money to pay for six students to take home meals for the entire school year, Matt Hughes said.
Hughes said their show would not happen without the support of his neighbors, who graciously deal with hundreds of extra cars converging on their cul-de-sac.
The lights show consists of five songs. Four are always traditional Christmas songs, and the fifth one changes each year. Last year the family picked the Pharrell Williams song “Happy,” but this year Matt Hughes, who is a U.S. military veteran, went the patriotic route, selecting “God Bless America” sung by Lee Greenwood.
“With everything going on in our country right now, it seemed appropriate,” Hughes said.
Inevitably, Hughes gets comments about the Griswolds from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Although things usually go much more smoothly for the Hughes family, Matt Hughes has one thing in common with Chevy Chase’s character.
“I have got electrocuted quite a few times over the years,” Hughes said. “It just happened again last night.”
Here are some other places to see over-the-top Christmas displays in West Michigan that are worth checking out. This list only includes residential displays. Click for the google map of each home.