PECO Holiday Madness Tournament: Lighting up the night

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By Kate Emmanuel, Staff Reporter

There is nothing that says “winter” like driving through a neighborhood illuminated by twinkling holiday lights on a cold, snowy day. To celebrate the holiday spirit, the Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO) recently held a competition during December in which 32 contestants built elaborate lights displays and competed to be PECO’s Holiday Madness Tournament champion. 

Dan Leon, the only contestant from the Main Line area, placed in the top eight of the event. Leon worked long hours for weeks on end to complete his display in time for the competition.

 “It’s probably seven o’clock in the morning on a Saturday until seven o’clock or until you can’t work anymore. Saturday, Sunday, Friday, Saturday, sometimes I come home from work during lunch and do some work, but it (takes) three weeks,” Leon said.

The tournament consisted of PECO customers who decorated their houses in festive holiday lights. PECO’s Instagram followers voted on their favorite entries for five rounds. Contestants with more votes moved through the rounds until only one entry was left standing. The winner received a PECO energy assessment, a free drive through the Shady Brook Holiday Light Show, Philadelphia Zoo Tickets for 2021, Franklin Institute Tickets for 2021 and a feature on 6ABC’s social media.

In addition to placing in the top eight of the tournament, Leon also won three other awards from the T/E Parks and Recreation Contest. He won the Clark Griswold Award for extravagant lights, the Most Musical Award and the Best Animation Award for his display. He did not have prior experience with putting up elaborate lights displays. But for the past 20 years, it has been a holiday tradition for Leon and his family to decorate their house every winter. 

Building the display took not only long hours, but also had its own setbacks along the way. Putting the lights together came with hurdles.

“You have to go out there and individually dig (blow-up figurines) up without damaging them, which is time-consuming and backbreaking,” Leon said. “Believe it or not, varmints like foxes, raccoons and squirrels chew through your electrical cords all the time. So you come out and half your lights aren’t working the next day.” 

Despite the obstacles that come with putting on light displays together, they are a safe way for families to enjoy the holiday season this year. For example, families are able to drive by and pose with an inflatable Santa at Leon’s lights display.

“That’s really the highlight of our night: when we’re inside the house and seeing people drive up, stop, get out, and take pictures or walk around. We park all the cars in the back so people can actually see there’s a big blow-up Santa in a chair. He’s COVID friendly because he’s not alive!” Leon said.

Leon describes this project as a “positive distraction” for him, which has served as a way for the community to return to a level of normalcy. In the end, Leon narrowly lost to the winner of the competition: “Augustine’s Winter Wonderland,” who won by 363 votes against him for future competitors, Leon advises that enjoying the process is the most important part of the competition. 

“Just have fun with it,” Leon said. “Do it not to win, but (instead), do it because of the spirit of the holiday season and spreading joy.”