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Electrifying holiday spirit in Clayton, Henry

By Justin Boron

Derek Schwab is a man of luminous holiday energy.

At his house on W. Windemere Way between Jonesboro and Riverdale, an estimated 80,000 lights consume the neighborhood, creating a Griswold-esque extravaganza of festive illumination.

The spectacle has become a regular tradition for families traveling around the south metro area to view the various houses decked out with symbols of the season.

In Henry County, the devotion to Christmas celebration can be seen as well off Ga. Highway 138 on Love and Redding roads, where one resident's infectious spirit has prompted several neighbors to follow suit.

Brandy Ellis is one of the neighbors who has jumped on board.

"This is my first year with Christmas decorations," she said. "I'm going to put icicles around the house and I'm gonna' get me a sleigh."

Ellis has lived on Love Road her entire life and said she can't remember a time when her neighbor Pat Armstead has not garnished her yard with holiday adornments.

In Schwab's neighborhood, his enthusiasm also has become contagious.

"Most neighbors do a little bit of decorating," Schwab said. "(Our lights) seem to get people into the spirit."

Houses in a nearby cul-de-sac laid out their own strands of icicle lights, spotlighted mangers, and even an inflatable snowman version of Tigger at Lori Rosser's house.

Rosser was still in the process of setting up her display. But once she got her revolving Christmas tree up she said, "It's going to be beautiful."

Rosser admitted the cul-de-sac's decorations combined are no match for Schwab's display.

The 23-year old has constructed the landscape of twinkling bulbs since he was a teenager, adding on a little each year.

In the past, he has perfected live-action sequences, like the sparkling scene of white-lighted, grazing deer. Or the Grinch that pulls lights off a Christmas tree.

Santa's helicopter propeller even twirls over Schwab's chimney.

This year, he said he is working on synchronizing music to the movement of his lights, preparing for the droves of people who will cruise down the street by mid-December.

"The worst part is probably the traffic," he said. "A lot of times, I'll come home and have to wait to get in the driveway."

Already, bundled-up families slow down and sometimes stop at the house to gaze at the lavish mix of lights.

Rosalind Sims and Karen Brown recently drove a group of people from Clayton County Mental Health to see Schwab's house.

Sims remarked at "how cute" the Grinch was as he grumpily pulled at the strands of lights.

The group - consisting of Betty Love, Donald Lester, Diane Marie Lickfeld, and Elaine Lyons - was headed out of the neighborhood to find more evidence of holiday obsession.

In Jonesboro, Mayor Joy Day was getting in on the spirit as she wrapped miniature Christmas trees with white lights in her driveway across from City Hall.

Light-seekers can also take the windy Emerald Drive around the north shore of the Lake Spivey area and see several elegant displays reflecting off the calm evening waters.

One drawback to all of the electrical spirit, though, is the overuse of power, Schwab said.

For the month of December, he said his power bill goes up about $250.

But that is not typically the case for more refined decorations, said Carol Boatright, a spokeswoman for Georgia Power.

"It doesn't have that great of an impact," she said. "All of the lights used are pretty small and don't draw a lot of capacity."

For every six hours of use, a Christmas tree with five strands of lights will increase the bill $0.03, and outdoor displays will increase the bill by $0.01 per object.

Overall, a consumer is looking at a $10 to $15 increase in their power bill, Boatright said.

Georgia Power also recommends the following safety tips for holiday lighting:

? Do not overload circuits. Plugging too many lights into one outlet, or several outlets on the same circuit, overloads the circuit and can cause a fire.

? Use only lights and decorations that carry the UL approval.

? Use lights in the proper place, if lights are not designated for outdoor use, do not put them there.

? Make sure that all outdoor circuits have "ground fault interruption" outlets or breakers. These prevent shock or electrocution in damp or wet conditions.

? Do not string lights in damp or wet conditions.

? Do not leave lights on the ground in areas that are prone to flooding.

? Do not use frayed or damaged cords.

? Do not run cords under rugs, carpet, or place near curtains.

? Put timers on outdoor lights.

? Do not leave lights on - especially on natural indoor Christmas trees - when no one is home.

? Water natural trees daily.

? Do not place natural trees under or over a heating vent - causing the tree to dry out and possibly cause a fire