Last night, ABC kicked off season 7 of The Great Christmas Light Fight, the annual holiday competition series that’s big on twinkles and illumination, but not so much on actual battling, since the physical distance between rivals makes it hard to engage in any real quarreling—and that’s not a bad thing. This is low-stress, positive-vibes, family-friendly reality TV, where teams across the United States compete to win $50,000, a trophy, and bragging rights as the best pixel pushers in the country. If that’s not enough to sway the grumpiest of Scrooges, it’s worth mentioning that there’s also science aplenty here.
From now till the end of the holiday season, ABC will air two back-to-back episodes on Monday nights, where viewers will meet four families per episode via judges Taniya Nayak and Carter Oosterhourse. Each family has an endearing thing that makes them hard to not root for, and that thing and their passions are always connected to the extravagant light shows they’re creating. This year’s season’s opener kicked off with Greg and Jessica Brewster tap dancing. They are high school sweethearts who were brought together by their mutual love of theater. Together, with their two small children, they enchanted their neighborhood in Brewerton, New York, with a light extravaganza inspired by New York City—the perfect place for a theater lover. Their mission was to make it feel like New York City during Christmastime, specifically, the storefronts of Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s. They even had a dazzling New Year’s Eve mini ball drop on display.
There was also Arizona’s Sanda family (not to be confused with Santa), and the Roses, who lost their daughter to cancer when she was 13 and this year incorporated a memorial into their light show (even more gut-wrenching is that they found out about her cancer on Christmas Day). Last night’s hour-one winners (chosen by Nayak) was the Chiles family of Portland, Oregon. They were led by four generations of women who decked out their 1800s Victorian Mansion with one million lights.
Hour two, led by Oosterhouse, really dug deep when it came to the Torres family—Cuban immigrants whose matriarch and patriarch couldn’t celebrate Christmas as exuberantly as they wanted to (under Castro) until they emigrated to the United States several decades ago. The Torres’s motif was a Christmas-themed Pirates of the Caribbean show as a way to tap into their Caribbean heritage. The grandfather manually built an actual pirate ship and castle that looked as good as what you would see on a movie set.
A cynic might argue that the grand displays of excess are unnecessary, or that the prize money could be put to more effective use (at a charity, for instance). But the care and mechanics behind each display are awe-inspiring—it all goes way beyond your average string of Christmas lights hanging from a window or porch. This is extravagance executed by ordinary people who have figured out that creating a dazzling light display is the perfect way to spread joy.