More than 100,000 individual lights, 7.2 miles of cable and synchronization to Christmas music on a radio station — that’s what goes into the Morris family's annual Christmas light show in the Chamale neighborhood near Slidell.
For the thousands who stop by to see it every year, the show is a highlight of the season, but for many neighbors, it means a nightly traffic nightmare that makes their holiday season anything but happy.
“We have a couple battles. The first is just putting it up. The second battle is there’s four or five neighbors that just fight. They fight,” said Steve Morris, who spends three months a year putting up the decorations with his wife Mikhael and two teenage daughters.
Mikhael and Stephen Morris are self-confessed Christmas decoration fanatics.
In the latest round of that fight, the Chamale Homeowners Association board has approved a modification of the neighborhood covenants that would prohibit spectator-drawing displays like the one the Morrises have at 125 Chamale Drive.
That doesn’t faze the Morrises, though.
They said they’ve faced yearly attempts from neighbors to regulate their show since starting it in 2010, with regular petitions and threats of lawsuits.
The opponents “get shut down every year,” Mikhael Morris said. She added that this year, they received complaints before even turning the lights on.
With the animated display synchronized to music on an FM station, cars line up for the chance to witness the show, which takes several minutes. With only a couple of cars at a time able to get the full effect of it in front of the Morrises' house, lines back up down Magnolia Bend Drive — a dead-end street that is only a few houses long. The cars coming in and out number as many as 400 an hour.
Neighbors say that’s brought numerous problems, including dogs barking constantly from headlights shining inside homes. Driving home from work is more difficult, and hosting holiday parties is nearly impossible.
One of the neighbors having issues with the show is Joan Archer, who lives at the end of Magnolia Bend.
“It’s just a miserable event,” she said.
Archer said that in the past few years, she’s had her mailbox knocked down and had people urinate on her lawn. She said she’s reached out to the neighborhood association and the St. Tammany Parish Council, to no avail thus far.
But this latest effort may change things, according to Darryl Hebert, a member of the Chamale Homeowners Association board and a resident of Magnolia Bend. With the board’s vote to modify the covenants, it now will take the signatures of a majority of Chamale homeowners to put the changes in place.
Hebert said the new language would “encourage holiday displays. It would prohibit holiday displays which attract spectator traffic.” For Hebert, it’s a change he’s ready to see.
“Our primary concern is that this poses a public safety hazard,” he said, noting that he’s concerned about what would happen if an emergency vehicle had to travel down the street, something he’s tried to address with the police detail the Morrises hire.
Like Archer, he’s also had to deal with people urinating on his lawn.
Steve Morris said he first hired the Sheriff’s Office detail after a discussion a few years ago with the homeowners association president. At $40 an hour, the Morrises said that they’ve been told it’s the easiest detail job those doing it have ever been on, and that the only time they have to get out of their cars is “for a neighbor complaining.”
“The cop will say, ‘I promise you, if we can run a Mardi Gras parade in front of the hospital over here, we can get anybody back here if needed,' ” Steve Morris said.
Neighbors remain unconvinced.
“Obstruction of traffic is in violation of St. Tammany Parish ordinances. The board has asked the sheriff to uphold the law,” Hebert said.
Another concern that Hebert has is that opposing the Morrises' light display is taken as anti-Christmas.
That’s a concern Archer shares.
“We love Christmas displays just as much as the next person. I think the basis of Christianity is being kind to your neighbor,” she said. “It’s just being cast as we’re being anti-Christ or anti-Christmas. That’s not true. We love Christmas.”
Archer said she’s reached out to Jerry Binder, who represents the neighborhood on the Parish Council. But Binder said it’s an issue best left to the neighborhood, and that the council “has no authority over Christmas lights.”
“It’s Christmas time; people are going to do light displays. I will say this: It’s a very large light display. It’s very extensive. It’s a very beautiful light display,” he said. “It’s certainly understandable that people living in the direct vicinity can definitely be inconvenienced.”