Denfeld News

Dec. 7, 2007
Fox 21 News

Light display is about community
By Julie Moravchi

Marcia Hales’ home on Park Point has become one of the most popular places in Duluth for people seeking out holiday lights — 60,000 people a year, by her count.

For the past 10 years, Hales has gone all out decorating her home, and she welcomes people to make their way through her lighting display. She serves cookies and hot cider, free of charge.

“These lights aren’t about me,” Hales said. “The lights are about what happens. It’s about the giving and sharing of friendships. … It’s awesome. I love people, so it’s a fun thing to be able to do.”

All the work involved in putting up 100,000 lights is done by two people: the 62-year-old Hales and her 15-year-old grandson, Zach Hales of Duluth.

“It’s sort of going back to the way things used to be,” Hales said. “I’m always amazed at people that come from other parts of the country who go, ‘Holy cow, I can’t believe somebody would open their house.’ And it was a leap of faith, I guess, it really was.”

Her leap of faith began 10 years ago.

When Hales decided to decorate her home on Park Point and enter the city lighting contest, she took second place.

Her husband, Alan, got so excited, he decided to join in. He began working on a special design.

“He was a sheet metal worker by trade, and so I had an idea of something really dazzling that I wanted to do for the next season,” Hales said. “I showed him a picture of what I had in mind, and he said, oh, he could build that.”

But before he could finish his work, something unexpected happened.

At age 47, he had a heart attack.

“He just went to work one day and … never came home.”

Her husband’s friends approached Hales and told her they wanted to complete his Christmas project.

“They just took the project on and built it in his memory,” she said.

They built a “fountain of light” lighting display in Alan’s memory.

Meanwhile, Marcia Hales missed her husband. She knew her first Christmas without him would be painful, so she decided to dedicate her time to her lighting display.

“For me, the way I deal with loss is to throw myself into a project,” she said. “Getting into the lights just gave me a new sense of hope and focus.”

It was her biggest Christmas lighting display — and something unexpected happened. Instead of simply driving by, people stopped their cars and got out, spending time looking at Hales’ lights.

Her lonely Christmas suddenly became brighter and a new idea was born.

“It was a blessing in disguise, I guess,” Hales said. “People started coming and they were sitting out there looking at the lights, and I thought: ‘Why not open the property?’ So that’s how I started with encouraging people to walk through the property.”

Ever since, people have been walking through the maze of lights in her backyard and making their way to a breathtaking view of Lake Superior.

From the fairies to the skating bears, Hales has designed and built everything. She opened up her garden house and turned it into a “warming shack” where hot cider and cookies are served. Hales does it as a gift to the community, but she started to see that her giving keeps coming back and bringing joy in unexpected ways.

“I keep threatening to write a book because there are just so many, many stories,” Hales said.

Her stories include people coming to her home for healing after losing a loved one, strangers traveling many miles just to see her lights, couples stopping by to take their wedding photos, people bringing her gifts and others warming her soul with a song.

“That’s why we came up with the name: “Holiday Spirit in the Lights,” because there is some kind of spirit here. I can’t explain it to you — it’s magic, it truly is.”

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