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Making spirits bright - really, really bright

Christmas decorating is more than light work for homeowners who leave no bulb unlit.

BROOKLYN PARK, Md. - While Christmas only comes once a year, Ray Davidson spends the other 364 days on the calendar planning.

"I've always been fascinated by Christmas," Davidson said. "I go into depression in January when it all goes away."

The Brooklyn Park resident is part of a small army of men and women who have spent the last several weeks hauling boxes out of the basement and putting the decorations up.

Whether it's vast collections like Davidson's, three decades of light-display extravaganzas like it is for Tony Iorio, or a first-time effort like Al Saunders', this is the season for decorating.

As a kid growing up in Baltimore in the 1960s, Davidson was particularly fond of the lights and ornaments that decorated his family's Christmas tree.

At age 52, his passion for Christmas now borders on obsession. Davidson displays seven Christmas trees throughout his two-story home, which he shares with a roommate and his dog, Gabby, a 5-year-old black mountain cur.

Each tree is decorated with vintage lights and ornaments dating back as far as the 1880s, when the first bulbs were shipped to the United States from Germany.

Davidson moves through his house with a childlike excitement showing his favorite pieces - small bronze bulbs that feel heavy in the palm of your hand and lights that explode into red and green shards like the inside of a kaleidoscope.

The lights strung around a number of Davidson's trees and outside his home are C6 lights, popular from the 1950s to the 1970s.

A property manager for a personal estate, Davidson spends much of the year searching on eBay, at antiques shops, and at estate sales for various vintage decorations.

"When you see them, you have to buy them," Davidson said, a former country-music singer who has carried his collection through stints in Nashville and Texas.

Davidson estimates that over the last 25 years, he has invested some $50,000 in decorations. His collection is so big that he's running out of space in his home to keep it all.

For Davidson, the decorations are a source for nostalgia, which he shares with guests at his annual Christmas party.

"It amazes me the number of people who come in and say, 'Oh, my God, those were the same lights on my great-grandmother's tree,' " he said. "It jogs people's memories when they see them."

For many of these enthusiasts, Christmas is more than a holiday; it's an undertaking that can last all year. While some do it out of tradition or nostalgia, others do it to be the biggest and brightest on the block.

Over the last 27 years, Tony Iorio's Delmar Avenue home in Glen Burnie has become a holiday landmark.

Like Davidson, Iorio, 50, has spent thousands of dollars on his outside display over the years.

"Kids just started going crazy," Iorio said. "Every year we added more and more and more."

The display has grown so big that Iorio had to build a 14-by-12-foot shed a few years ago when he ran out of room in his garage and basement to store everything.

Decorated with red, white, and blue lights, Iorio's outside display includes a dancing Santa Claus, a snowmaker, and a 30-minute laser lights show.

Every night from 5 to 10 p.m., Iorio's house, which he shares with his wife, Darleen, and their 20-year-old son, Tony Jr., is fully illuminated. On the weekends, when Iorio dresses up as Santa Claus and hands out candy canes to children, the house attracts hundreds of people to the neighborhood, he said.

His ultimate goal is for the lights to be so bright that the house will be visible from space.

Iorio generally begins buying new decorations right after the previous Christmas, spending months perfecting a blueprint for the house and front yard.

To accompany the light show, Iorio, who works at a Giant grocery store warehouse in Jessup, broadcasts a mix of well-known Christmas songs from an FM transmitter on his computer.

Although the cost to Iorio's electric bill has been offset by newer LEDs that help to conserve energy, he is still paying hundreds more than what the cost would otherwise be in December.

"I never worry about the price," he said. "I do it for the kids, I really do. I like seeing the smile on their faces when they see the lights - plus, I'm still a kid myself."

With recent introductions in technology, the army of Christmas enthusiasts seems to be growing, as newcomers have a wide array of tools to spread holiday cheer.

Brooklyn Park resident Al Saunders is new to the scene this year.

The 39-year-old insurance underwriter has decorated the home that he shares with his wife, Donna, on Ritchie Highway with 5,000 lights, hoping to make a splash.

Starting at 7 p.m. each day, Saunders' lights are synchronized with six well-known Christmas songs that he transmits from his computer to 103.9 FM.

He asks spectators to park in the lot across the street and listen to their radios to enjoy the show.

"I'm just a kid at heart," Saunders said. "I'm trying to make people happy and give a little Christmas spirit."

After starting two weeks ago, the show has attracted a dozen or so vehicles, he said.

He estimates he has put about $1,000 into his equipment and is expecting a larger electrical bill for December.

However, like Iorio, Saunders doesn't seem too concerned about the cost.

"I've really been getting a kick out of people enjoying it," Saunders said. "I like Christmastime, and I want to make people feel good."