Last Saturday, the annual Youngstown Court traffic jam began even before 5:15 p.m.
That's when the timers at Allen and Cattina Holt's home click on, and the 31,000 lights that line, course, cover and streak the two-story structure and the front, side and back yards set the corner ablaze.
But it isn't just the lights that stop traffic and coax people to pull over.
It is Allen Holt dressed as Buddy the Elf, his wife as Elmo, and the man who started all this, Preston Holt, Allen's dad, sitting in Santa regalia on a red bench in the driveway.
"Hey! Come and talk to Santa!" Buddy said, as kids - toddlers and gray-haired ones - streamed by for closer looks at the glowing stars in the windows, sparkling arches, mini Christmas trees and Buddy's black shoes with jingle bells on the toes. He opened up a toy sack as he spoke.
"I've been working on these all day," he said. "You have to get a present!"
The elf smiled as though he'd already gotten his.
Allen Holt's fixation with Christmas began as a kid watching his father's annual draping of the house in twinkling lights. When Allen bought his first house when he was 18, he put up a few lights, and each year added a few more.
By 2003, he was in full competition with his dad, and Allen and his wife blanketed their house with lights and lined their sidewalk. By 2005, and at a new home, Allen created a multicolored garden in his yard and sprinkled it with a few inflatables. By then, Preston Holt had conceded defeat in their friendly holiday contest.
"He overtook me," the elder Holt said.
For Christmas 2006 in their current home, Allen Holt trimmed the house eaves with bright icicles and placed more blow-up Mickey Mouses and snowmen in the yard. Neighbors started calling him Griswold, after the obsessed Clark Griswold of the "Christmas Vacation" movie.
The next year, Holt overloaded the electrical circuitry so much that his wife couldn't use her hair dryer without leaving the couple in the dark.
Holt started going to Christmas conventions, while his single friends went to sports bars. As others stocked up on sweaters at after-Christmas sales, he scouted for lights. Last year, returning from a holiday visit in Delaware, he and his wife hit seven Lowe's stores and packed their car to brimming with boxes. He'd decided this year's display would be the biggest and best yet.
He's added computer-programmed music, and his lights pulsate and ripple to the tunes, which can be picked up on 98.3 FM in cars riding by.
Like a good elf, he started working early, in February, to make sure his list of to-do's would be done by Christmas. Each minute of music took three hours of programming, he said, and by October, he had 16 songs ready.
Last week, close to 50 inflatables - one a 20-foot-tall snowman - bobbed and jiggled in the frigid Saturday wind: Santa playing cards, Santa on a rocking horse, Santa on a train, Santa sitting around a plastic fire, Santa popping out of a chimney, Santa in a balloon, Santa on a motorcycle.
Another new touch this year: a Make-a-Wish Foundation donation box by the mailbox near the curb. The Holts thought it would be a perfect way to take advantage of the foot traffic and holiday giving spirit.
Last weekend was this year's first appearance for Buddy, Elmo and Santa, who will be out every Saturday night with sacks of candy canes, toy rings and stickers.
By 7 p.m. Saturday, traffic at the corner of Youngstown and Hillwell Road was at a standstill as drivers looked for places to park. Buddy - in his too-thin yellow stockings, green jacket, and green and gold cone hat - stood close to an outdoor heater as he listened to the crowd:
"Oh my gosh!"
"Look at Santa riding the rocking horse!"
Sarah Yankee, 5, and her brother Caleb, 7, stared at a holographic Santa appearing in an upstairs window.
"Wave to Santa, Sarah," mom Lynae Yankee said.
Sarah smiled and waved, sheepishly.
That is why the Holts do this every year.
"It's the look," Holt said.
The look he had as a kid; the look his 2-year-old daughter, Cali, has when she gazes out the windows at the glow each night; the look of kids, slack-jawed, that just speaks pure Christmas joy.
Other kids moved in and took Sarah and Caleb's place and waved at Santa, and dancing Elmo, and shivering Buddy, who kept his toy sack open. The 180 candy canes they packed would be long gone before the night was over.
Then a silver van slowed, and a stranger leaned out, with a wave.
"Hey!" she called out. "Merry Christmas!"
Denise Watson Batts,