Calgary neighbours launch Griswold Christmas Contest to brighten up end of 2020

·3 min read

Lara Cooke was feeling a little down in mid-November, sitting in her home office day after day and looking out at the dark street. With the holiday season just around the corner, she decided to reach out to her neighbours.

"We knew that our neighbours are struggling with various things because of all the things that have gone on this year, and I thought, you know, we need to do something," Cooke told The Homestretch.

"I just sent an email around to the block. We are a close-knit bunch and I said, 'Hey, how about if we just go early and aggressive with our lights this year and try and brighten things up a bit?' And they suggested a little contest, and put some skin in the game — and people really took to it."

Cooke and her neighbours launched the Griswold Christmas Contest on their southwest Calgary street. And they got into it.

"It was amazing. I wasn't sure if I'd get a response at all because I know that, you know, everyone's really stressed," Cooke said. "But, immediate responses. People across the street actually had their lights up from last year and just flipped them on, and all up and down the block, people said they were going to be all in, and how much they love the Griswolds."

Ellis Choe/CBC
Ellis Choe/CBC

For Cooke, the iconic 1989 National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation starring Chevy Chase is a staple of the holidays — and a guide to holiday decorating.

"It means covering your entire house in lights in an exceedingly over-the-top fashion," she said.

And they did.

"We've got a really amazingly, great street," said Cooke, who added one friend quipped it could be seen from space.

When it came time to vote on the winner — who would receive "a nice bottle of wine and a gift card for a local private seller of books" — the neighbours headed outside in socially distanced groups to admire the displays.

Ellis Choe/CBC
Ellis Choe/CBC

The winning house featured live music on the front porch.

"Well, Guy and Lynn down the road won the No. 1, most over-the-top, Griswolds' Christmas award," Cooke said. "Guy was out there playing his keyboard and playing beautiful Christmas carols on the night that we all voted. So it was pretty top notch."

There was also a "What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas" category.

"That one was our immediate neighbours, who indicated from early on they were going to go hard with the lights," Cooke said. "And they did an amazing job. The whole front of their house is covered in bright, strobing blue and white lights."

In the end, it wasn't about the light displays being particularly spectacular — and the neighbours have agreed they wish to keep their actual location private. It was about everyone getting into the spirit of the thing.

Cooke and her husband, who are both health-care workers, were adamant that the contest would not cause any physical gathering of people. But maybe next year, she said, it could turn into a block party.

"When we did our voting, you know, we were out there sort of piecemeal, not in groups, but we did encounter a few neighbours in passing. And everyone agreed that once everyone has been vaccinated, we need to do this again, maybe even bigger."

With files from The Homestretch.