Flip on the television and tune to ABC Monday evening and you may be surprised to see some local faces. Dave and Cathy Athens of Mount Shasta will be competing for a $50,000 winner-take-all prize on The Great Christmas Light Fight.
The episode featuring the Athens is scheduled to air Monday, Dec. 18 at 9 p.m.
The couple, who have lit up their Douglas Lane front yard for the past 10 years, will be competing against three families from around the country for the hefty cash prize as well as the “Light Fight” trophy.
Cathy said if they win the money, they’ll “do some things around the house,” and donate some to the Siskiyou Humane Society, where Cathy is a board member.
Hosted by Taniya Nayak and Carter Oosterhouse, the Great Christmas Light Fight is in its fifth season, according to the show’s website.
Cathy said she got a call from show producers last spring, asking if they’d be interested in participating in the contest. ABC found the Athens via their posting on californiachristmaslights.com, which directs holiday light seekers to worthwhile displays in their neighborhoods.
Film crews were in Mount Shasta for four days, from Oct. 12 through 15. On Oct. 14, members of the community were invited to the Athens’ yard to film certain scenes, though no one was allowed to talk about the event or spread word on social media until ABC gave their approval earlier this week.
Cathy said because of the early filming, they had a shorter amount of time to finish their display this year, and not every character is out there. However, there are some new additions, including the “Frozen Forest,” where all the Frozen characters live. That area of the yard is done all in blue and white lights.
Other new characters include Pinocchio, Geppetto, and Jiminy Cricket, as well as Cinderella and Prince Charming. Cinderella’s carriage is available for families to climb on for photo opportunities, Cathy said.
The largest tree in their yard is now strung with LED lights, up the trunk and around its branches.
New characters are joined by approximately 50 longtime display favorites, including the ferris wheel featuring Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, which are remnants from the display that used to light up the empty lot adjacent to Mt. Shasta Memorial Park.
A labor of love
Ten years ago, Dave Athens began collecting and repairing pieces of that previous holiday light display that was popular in the 1980s.
He said he doesn’t know exactly what gave him the idea to start up the display again, but it all started when he and Cathy got together in August 2006.
“When she moved in with me she also brought along nine big containers of Christmas decorations,” Dave said. “At first I thought she must be crazy to have so many decorations, but it ended up inspiring me to do more.
“It was just something I wanted to do,” he said. “At first, I went and asked the cemetery’s owners if I could start the display up again, and they said no. There was too much liability involved. Then I asked them if I could take some of the decorations home, and they said yes.”
Characters from Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, the Flintstones, the Peanuts gang, Rocky and Bullwinkle and the Care Bears delighted children in the 1980s when the display lit up the empty lot next to the cemetery.
“Before the decorations were at the cemetery, they belonged to Frank and Evelyn Silva,” Dave pointed out. “Frank made them, then he got high school kids to paint them.”
The Silvas later donated their decorations to the cemetery, which continued the display until 1989 or so, when vandalism began to be a problem and the tradition ended. The decorations were relegated to two large storage sheds, where they sat until Dave decided to dig them out.
A modern display
At the Athens’ house today, a sound system pumps cheerful holiday music in the crisp night air as visitors wander through a sparkling winter wonderland every night of the week. They’ll see not only the well-loved characters, but dozens of reindeer and more decorated Christmas trees than they can count. Friday and Saturday nights are made even more special by the appearance of Santa Claus, who rides a Harley and pulls a big red sleigh.
Every child that meets Santa will receive a toy, Cathy said. They also offer hot chocolate, coffee, and cookies on Fridays and Saturdays only.
“Sometimes we like to look out the window and listen to what people are saying,” Cathy admits. “Everyone gets so excited... once a friend’s daughter started crying when she saw some of the decorations because they reminded her of her childhood.”
“We just enjoy it,” Dave said. “We haven’t gotten anything out of it but joy.”
But maybe, on Monday, $50,000.
Editor's note: Cathy and Dave Athens are longtime employees of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers. Cathy has worked in the composing department for two decades, and Dave does maintenance and delivery of our Siskiyou County newspapers.