SAUGERTIES–It takes the whimsy and energy of a 21-year-old McDonald’s manager and the practicality and artistry of a professional landscaper to pull off something as extraordinary as the yard display at 123 Patch Road.
The pair happens to be father and son, and together, they managed to take their Christmas spirit to a national audience this year.
Zach and his father, Troy, labored hard from early August through September to get their 215,000 lights ready for the ABC crew that would shoot season five of “The Great Christmas Light Fight” from their yard in the fall.
“Normally, it takes about three months to put up, but because we had a deadline for the TV show, we had to do it in 41 days,” Zach said.
“We had a 70-foot lift in here, and my dad went up and did all the high parts in the trees, and then after that was done, we did the rest of the trees and worked our way down and finished everything.”
The reality show aired on Monday night, and though the Sussins did not take home the $50,000 cash prize and giant Fight Light trophy, they said the experience was nonetheless gratifying.
“It wasn’t even about winning or losing for us,” Zach said. “It was just the fact of getting on there and being able to show the world our display. Just this year, we started getting so much more traffic, and we realized this display brings so much joy and happiness to others, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Troy, who works for the Kingston-based Augustine Landscaping, said they were wearing shorts and battling summer humidity and lightning storms while they were hanging the lights.
While the thermometer read high 80s, it wasn’t Beach Boys tunes playing to get them into the spirit. Zach, a self-described Christmas fanatic, instead blared classics like Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”
The Saugerties High School graduate is so into the season that he’s got a Christmas lights tattoo on his right bicep, and he flaunts it while speaking of his No. 1 pastime.
“I’m usually the one that comes up with all the ideas, and my dad is the one who brings them to life,” he said.
“I’ll be thinking of things in the middle of the night, and then the next day, he’ll make it happen. A lot of times, if I have an idea and he doesn’t like it, he’ll say so, but most of the time, he ends up liking it.”
The obsession began five years ago as Zach was returning a Halloween costume. He came home with a couple boxes of lights and began assembling them outside.
“I was plugging and plugging and not realizing how many I was plugging, and all of a sudden, it went dark. I came back inside and said, ‘Dad, I think we have a problem.’
“After that, I kept buying more and more, and he just started helping me every year and it’s grown into what it is today.”
Because of their national fame, the Sussin family has gotten carloads of spectators this year. Troy estimates that close to 40,000 people have seen it since he and Zach flipped the switch the day after Thanksgiving.
“The other displays on TV–you watch it. It plays for three minutes and it’s done. With ours, people walk around here for an hour or sometimes more than once because there’s so much to see and they missed half the stuff before.”
Those who go out to see the display on the quarter-acre property can park their cars on the side of Patch Road and take it all in on foot.
Prepare for a jaw-dropping experience.
Behemoth inflatables blend brilliantly with vintage plastic ornaments and twinkling lights–as far as the eye can see–skillfully wrapped around tree limbs, fences and the family’s house not far from Mount Marion Elementary School on Glasco Turnpike.
They more than doubled their LED-light display from last year and have made the most of the traffic by collecting for charities like The Salvation Army and Christmas Wishes Ulster County.
With the funds raised, they were able to purchase 400 new toys for The Salvation Army and buy an entire Christmas worth $1,000 each for two families through Christmas Wishes.
Aside from that, they said they enjoy seeing the smiles of the elderly and wide-eyed wonder of children who pass through in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
“They’re just wowed by how big, how beautiful and how colorful it is, and how everything just flows together nicely,” Troy said.
“It’s not like somebody said, ‘OK, let’s put Christmas lights up.’ We actually took our time and really designed it, so it’s very eye-appealing.”
Even though the Sussins lost “The Great Christmas Light Fight” to the Wright family of Dayton, Texas, they don’t plan to scale back next year.
And while they don’t have an immediate goal of winning a Guinness World Record like Dutchess County resident Tim Gay did a few years back, they’re already planning ahead for 2018.
“We’re still going to keep changing it every year because it wasn’t about being on the show. I started this before the show even existed, so now, we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do next year.”
His father threw his head back and laughed.
“We’ve got 365 days to think about it,” he said.