This year’s holiday innovation at the Crighton home on Shamrock Road will be a skateboard display, a half-pipe created out of Christmas lights across the front yard, part of the family’s annual 2.5 million-bulb display.
On Dec. 23, as Christmas approaches, Santa Claus will make his traditional appearance, handing bags of goodies to visiting children, tourists and anyone else sufficiently delighted to see a much-loved institution preserved.
The custom of lighting up the front yard of Rex and Cecile Crighton’s home with a stunning display of seasonal lights started nearly 40 years ago. It was thrown into brief limbo this year following the September death of the family patriarch and longtime businessman.
However, Rex’s son Dale Crighton, managing director of the Crighton Group of Companies, said that the Christmas lights will illuminate the property right on schedule in mid-December.
“It’s something the island expects every year, now. We did it as a family and we will continue to do it,” he said, pointing to the inauguration of the effort in the mid-’70s.
“It was my mother’s idea, when we were kids,” he said. “We started with one little manger scene, and then we started adding to it.” The idea took hold, inspiring Maxine and Maureen Bodden on South Church Street, the furniture magnate Woods family, and most recently Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital founder Steve Tomlinson.
“It’s just become fun to do,” Mr. Crighton said.
In early October, he said, workers pull between 2 million and 3 million Christmas lights out of the warehouse on the family property, testing electrical connections, designing displays and seeking the safest way to pour 1,400 amperes – units of electrical charge – through the cables.
By comparison with the Crighton’s Christmas display, a household toaster in the U.S. uses 12.5 amperes; a car headlight, 5 amperes; and a hair dryer, 15 amperes.
“It takes about two-and-a-half months,” to set up, Mr. Crighton said. “We refurbish some of the scenes and then,” using trucks and a corps of hired labor, “in November, we put the lights up, and finish by about the first week of December.”
Scenes change from year to year, depending “on ideas we get, things we see as we travel, what we see over the years.” The skateboard display, for example, came from an idea from one of his children.
“My son built a half-pipe,” he said, similar to the start of a snowboarding course, “and I thought … I can do something out of that.”
After the original nativity scene, the family added a large Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman. They planted euphorbias, resembling snow, and poinsettias. In 1983, they added a red Santa house with white trim, an animated Santa Claus and a carol singer.
Two years later, workers built a small white house with a green roof and in 1986 built a stable to accompany the nativity scene. A traditional Cayman home with a white-sand yard and conch-shell borders followed, as did piped music and special trees, yielding, finally, more than 20 attractions.
The family employs security to patrol the grounds and police help control traffic on Shamrock Road, signaling drivers distracted by flashing multicolored lights or seeking to park along the shoulder.
12 Days of Christmas
The display remains for the full “12 Days of Christmas,” until about Jan. 6, Mr. Crighton said. The 12 Days idea was proposed by – no surprise – his mother. “She is very traditional, but would probably leave them up the whole year if she could.”
He is reluctant to comment on the cost of the approximately 25-day display, but says it includes labor, forklifts and trucks, the lights themselves – purchased both locally and, often, in Miami – and, of course electricity.
“We’ve switched over to LEDs [light-emitting diodes], so that makes a difference. One year,” he recalled, before the days of energy-saving bulbs, “we burned out a main Caribbean Utilities Company wire and shorted out everything down through Prospect.”
As for Santa Claus, he said, even in the absence of Mr. Rex, “we plan to do it on the 23rd, and we’ll have someone take his place.
“It’s something the island expects every year, now. We did it as a family and we will continue to do it.”