Saugerties family has been preparing for Christmas-light reality show since August

The Sussin family, bedecked in Christmas garb. (photos by Christina Coulter)

Some families put up their Christmas lights and affix wreathes to their doors right after their tables are cleared on Thanksgiving. Others wait longer, pulling decorations from their attics mid-December, halfway through their Advent calendars.

Bu in preparation for their debut on ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight, the father-and-son team of Troy and Zachary Sussin, joined by a crew of family and friends, began the daunting process of crowding 225,000 tiny LED lights over the eaves and among the trees of their Patch Road home in mid-August.

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When a film crew came to their property on Sept. 29 to capture the initial flip-switch light reveal, some of the hundreds of onlookers paired their Santa hats and red and green garb with shorts and short-sleeved shirts emblazoned with evergreens and “Sussin Family Christmas 2017.”

Zachary Sussin scrolled upon a call for families for the ABC show on Facebook in July; after submitting a video for consideration, the family traveled to Tennessee for an interview and were ultimately chosen to compete. The family is pitted against three other spirited American families for a title, a Christmas bulb-shaped trophy and $50,000. According to a release issued by ABC, the competition will be steep; the other bedecked homes are located in Glenwood, Utah; Dayton, Texas; and Red Cross, North Carolina — that one complete with a behemoth 46-foot Christmas tree.

The Sussin family insists, however, that their participation is entirely Christmas spirit-based. “This is for the community; this is all out of our own,” said Zach, whose bicep has been wrapped by a Christmas lights tattoo since the project’s inception in 2012. “If I can put a smile on one kid’s face from this, it’d all be worth it.”

“He probably got it from me,” said Troy Sussin. “We used to do Christmas lights and one day he came home with lights. He tripped the breakers and I helped him. Over five years it’s snowballed into this.”

When the Town of Saugerties granted a mass-gathering permit on Sept. 20 to a film company called “Triple Threat Productions,” the event was shrouded in secrecy; reporters could only glean that the team would be operating on Patch Road, which would need to be closed off by police and that a crew of 13 would require two port-a-johns. “Upon contacting ABC, we were offered the option to attend the filming, if we agreed to hold a story until the return of the show was announced in December.”

Over the years, the number of lights the Sussins have used has more than doubled from an initial count of 80,000. Through yard sale trawling and word of mouth, the family has accrued 75 inflatable figures, including snowmen and carolers, a 100-year-old sleigh that the family has refurbished, a mountain of snow made from old scaffolding, 50 reindeer dotting the property and 20 blow-up objects, like snow globes. There were more candy canes than one could shake a sugary stick at; an estimated 16,000.

The entrance to the home is outfitted with a gingerbread blow-up fixture complete with a gumdrop and candy cane doorway. A 30-foot radio tower has been permanently cemented into the ground behind the house, picking up on frequencies playing holiday jingles and hooked up to allow the light system to blink in time with the music. Towering letters on the side of the home read “JOY” and a traditional manger is situated on the front of the property. Anticipating host Carter Oosterhouse’s appreciation of DIY woodwork from his performances on home improvement shows like Trading Spaces, the family installed a motion-activated “Believe-O-Meter” towards the back of the property.

According to the Sussins, the process took a total of 41 hours this year, sometimes keeping them up on ladders into the wee hours of the night. They demurred when asked how much all of it costs.

“Every house is amazing like this,” said a member of Triple Threat’s casting department. “There’s an element of each house, though, that makes them different from the next. It’s a feel-good show with a feel-good attitude. Not only are they competing with these lights, but they’re bringing joy to the communities [that they live in.]”

A member of the crew works the boom.

Reality is not reality

After the family and their helpers finished the final throes of preparation, host Oosterhouse arrived in a large truck; the amassed group had to recreate their excitement at his arrival four times before the film crew was satisfied. According to the host, the group was the “best crowd yet” that he’d seen in the filming of the show. The father and son team opened an erected doorway on the property, wrapped in Christmas paper, after pulling a huge lever and triggering the lights. A camera attached to a huge boom panned over the crowd over and over as they reiterated various emotions to use for the show.

“The scope and scale [of this year’s display] is unprecedented,” said Benjamin Fenton, a family friend dressed as Santa Claus on the set.

Saugertiesians in the area should anticipate an influx of car traffic to the site after the episode airs.

“We’ve met other people that have been on the show, and the number of people that go to the display skyrockets,” said Troy Sussin.

The segment featuring the Sussin Family of Patch Rd., Saugerties, will air Monday, Dec. 11 at 9 p.m. 

The crowd goes jolly.

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