Merrick family’s holiday lights hit TV

Catch the Heides on ABC Nov. 26


It’s an annual tradition for the Heide family to have the brightest house on the block during the holiday season. Now, their Merrick house will be seen nationwide, when they compete against other families for the No. 1 holiday lights display in ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight.”

Karen, 65, and Lenny, 64 — Calhoun High School class of 1972 sweethearts — have adorned their Yale Place home with holiday touches since they moved there in 1979. It began with Lenny crafting his own decorations. He cut out cartoon characters, including the Smurfs, Charlie Brown and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

When their son, Philip, now 34, was old enough to help, it became a Heide family/father-son bonding activity.

“We’re not into sports,” Philip said. “So this is our hobby and the bond we share between us.”

“As soon as he got older, it became tradition,” Lenny said. “I used to do it with my father, too, when I moved to Merrick when I was 14, only two doors down from here.”

Over the years, the Heides’ collection of blow molds — the colorful, seasonal plastic figurines that populate their front lawn —has grown. This December, they said, 436 will stand aglow on their lawn. Getting them all into position takes some planning.

They have invested in LED light bulbs, which can be purchased overseas for about $1 per bulb. The LEDs save nearly 5,000 watts per hour while the decorations are lit, compared with traditional incandescent lights. Fortunately, the family said, they haven’t experienced any blown lights yet.

The Internet has made the Heides’ hunt for the right decorations easier. Initially, they would bargain-hunt at local stores’ discount racks right after Christmas. Now, however, Facebook communities and Craigslist offer items at the right price year-round.

The Heides’ display grows more elaborate every year. In 2018, an animatronic Donner head greets visitors. “You might remember me from ‘The Great Christmas Light Fight,’” it says before offering background information on the rest of the display.

After the premiere episode airs, the family expects a large number of visitors. While the episode was filmed last year, more than 150 people watched. The Calhoun choir provided festive music.

The Heides’ holiday display opens after Dec. 1, at 2509 Yale Place in Merrick. The lights are usually on from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., the family said.

“The Great Christmas Light Fight” will air on ABC on Nov. 26 at 9 p.m. The Heides vie with three other families for a $50,000 prize.

For the Heides, though, it’s not about winning the grand prize, they said. They hope their display boosts Merokeans’ holiday spirit.

“I love to see people excited,” Karen said. “It brings joy to people. Some people have come and said they’re depressed, and they leave happy.”

The family does not accept donations from visitors, according to Philip. “Just go do something nice for someone else,” he said.