Every year countless lights and inconceivable miles of extension cords bring a warm fuzzy brilliance to the region as we celebrate the holidays.

Fan motors hum as they inflate giant Santas and elves. Moms and dads cart their children from neighborhood to neighborhood to ooh and aah at the glow.

Does Hampton Roads do Christmas lights better than anywhere else? Of course it does. Just look at these four stories of amazing local displays, and the people behind them.

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Christmas Decorations at the Oceanfront.

Barney Gill, who died in 2012, always decorated his home near the oceanfront in Virginia Beach in a big way for Christmas. Now his son, Eddie Smith has taken over the decorating in memory of Gill with a banner showing his dad when he was the football coach at West Point and the words "Merry Christmas Pop, We Love You."

"We love you"

If you're driving down Atlantic Avenue, you might see a brightly lit, 16-foot Christmas tree seemingly floating in the air.

It's real, and it's a tradition that's been going strong for about 40 years.

Barney Gill — a Norfolk native known for scoring the sole touchdown in the first Oyster Bowl in 1946 while playing for Granby High School — put the first tree on the roof when his stepson, Eddie Smith, was away at college in the late 70s.

"That first Christmas I came home from school he had the house decked out," Smith said.

Gill kept up with the tradition, adding little touches to his decorations each year. The Pilot first reported his rooftop Christmas tree 22 years ago.

About 10 years ago, just before Christmas, Gill wasn't feeling well. He told Smith he didn't think he'd be able to put decorations up. Smith stepped up to the plate.

Gill passed away in 2012, but Smith said he keeps the tradition alive to remember the only father he's ever known.

Each year around Thanksgiving, Smith climbs to the top of his three-story home on 58th Street — the same home Gill and Smith's mother lived in — and sets the tree up. His youngest son, Justin, is always there to help out, Smith said.

Like Gill, Smith adds features each year, like lighted archways over the sidewalk and a banner commemorating Gill's military service. The father-and-son team have braved freezing temperatures and inclement weather, but no matter what, the tree returns each year.

"It's just our way of saying, 'Merry Christmas, Pop. We love you.' "

— Amy Poulter

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Eddie Walker

Eddie Walker's Christmas lights display in South Mills, N.C., has more than 400,000 lights and is timed with music. He raises money for a Camden County children's fund.

"Really good times"

Eddie Walker has fond memories of his days as a youngster, tooling around town with his family, looking at colored lights strung along house gutters.

"We'd go looking for Santa and find all the lights. It was a wonderful time," he said outside his home in the northeastern Carolina farm country. "Things were different. Kids used to love this stuff. Now, with all the bad stuff going on, I don't think kids are into it.

"I want to bring something new and give them something wonderful to look at."

Walker has taken his holiday lights well past wonderful.

His display on Nosay Road in Camden County near South Mills features nearly 400,000 lights and miles and miles of wires that envelop his three-story house, every tree, palm and bush in his yard, and several displays he has built. Everything is tied into a computer, which pulses the display to music that can be heard by tuning the car radio to an FM station.

People drive for miles to see it, and on busy weekends county sheriffs mind the location on a mile-long stretch of road so that nobody gets hurt.

Out front there is a box where donations can be dropped off for the Camden County Sheriff's Department Children's Fund. Walker turned over nearly $2,500 last year.

"Some of these kids don't have coats, let alone toys for Christmas," Walker said. "Doing this just brings back great memories or really good times."

— Lee Tolliver

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Travis Blake's home for Christmas.

Dressed in his Santa suit Travis Blake,68, of Virginia Beach with his menagerie of fifty-one Christmas inflatables that fill the back yard of his home Tuesday evening, Dec.18, 2018. Blake begins to decorate the front and back yard in October in time for the "Grand Inflation" party in early December for neighbors and friends.

"It keeps me young"

Travis Blake first bought inflatable holiday decorations to play a prank on his son and daughter-in-law, but it didn't take long to spread the holiday spirit at his own house in the Thalia area of Virginia Beach. You can find his house on Cedar Lane.

It's become a tradition for him and his wife, Linda, to deck out their front and backyard with colorful lights and dozens of inflatables. He's up to 54 now and gathers new ones every year, he said. 

They throw a huge party for all their friends on the first Saturday in December to enjoy the decorations. But the prep begins as early as Oct. 5, he said.

He works for an hour, then stops. Miles of lights line every tree and bush on his property and create a tunnel in his driveway. The inflatables seem to grow each year. The tallest ones, a 12-feet tall snowman and Santa, sit on a two-foot base. He's already eyeing a 20-foot one for 2019. 

"It gets bigger and better every year," he said.

Even the pool is covered. A snowman he calls Heisman — as in the college football trophy — sits atop the pool cover, posing as if he just scored a game-winning touchdown. That's his oldest one. 

When decorations go on sale, Blake said, he travels down I-95 to Florida, stopping at every Big Lots along the way to snatch up all the strings of lights he can get his hands on.

His favorite decorations this year are a Yankees snowman given by a neighbor and a new Christmas tree inflatable. Linda likes the old-timey carolers. 

For the party, they turn on a machine that blows out what looks like snow and all the children gather round to play in it. They blast Christmas music out of the garage on a jukebox that runs 45s, inviting guests to peek behind the house at the magnificent display.

"It gives me a rise, it keeps me young," Travis said.

— Robyn Sidersky

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Travis Blake's home for Christmas.

Dressed in his Santa suit Travis Blake,68, of Virginia Beach with his menagerie of fifty-one Christmas inflatables that fill the back yard of his home Tuesday evening, Dec.18, 2018. Blake begins to decorate the front and back yard in October in time for the "Grand Inflation" party in early December.

"We've got a tradition going"

"I’m going to light this yard up,” Dalton Williford remembers saying as he envisioned the Christmas lights in his yard on Woodland Drive in Chesapeake's Western Branch area. 

And he did.

The annual Woodland Christmas Wonderland wraps around his driveway. It features thousands of lights and characters like the Abominable Snowman, Elsa and Olaf.

"When he bought this place, he knew he had 2½ acres and it was going to be massive," said his wife, Carroll.

For the past nine years, they've turned on the lights for the first time on Thanksgiving night. The wonderland lights up each evening for about six weeks.

There's no charge, but the Willifords do accept donations for the Portsmouth Humane Society. Last year, they collected over $7,000. Over the years, people have offered to pay, but Dalton refused. 

Dalton said he sets up the display because he loves the excitement of it all. It's grown over time.

"It takes a month to put up, a month to enjoy it and a month to put it all away," he said with a deep, old Tidewater accent.

The decorations are powered by three electric meters — one in the garage, one on the street and one in the house, said his wife.

You’ll also find a Christmas decoration museum in their garage, curated by Dalton. There are Christmas lights dating back to the 1920s and a shiny blue pedal car that he played with as a child.

"Obviously, I went to the extreme, but we’ve got a tradition going," he said. "We can’t really stop now."

One display in particular means a lot to him, his wife said: Five old blue flame bulbs he doesn't want to burn out because they belonged to his father or grandfather. On Christmas Eve, he replaces five of the bulbs lining the walkway with the blue ones — the ones that mean the most.

"He burns them one night," she said. "Just one night."

— Sean Kennedy and Saleen Martin

Lee Tolliver, 757-222-5844, lee.tolliver@pilotonline.com

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