Lighting up the dark for charity in Concord

If someone says your neighbor's house looks like Clark Griswold's, or their holiday light display is like McAdenville in a yard, it might be worth a closer look .

During the last five years, Concord residents Ross and Darlene Shotts have transformed their once-modest display into a festive, walk-through spectacle.

This is the first year the couple will use their display to help raise money for a local nonprofit: Humane Society of Concord and Greater Cabarrus County.

The Holiday Lights for Paws fundraiser will be 6-9 p.m. Dec. 18 at 3604 Glen Haven Drive S.W., Concord. It will include tours of the display, as well as a chance to meet Santa Claus and his elves. A fire and refreshments also will be on site. Donations are encouraged but not required.

"We felt like we finally got large enough where we could spread it around," said Ross. "We just want people to come by and enjoy it. In the past years, it's been just drive-by traffic, so this year, we felt like we'd get people out of the cars. And we plan on growing. We already bought stuff on sale after Thanksgiving. So, remember us and come back and see us in 2011."

The couple said they plan to make the light display an annual effort to help raise awareness for other area causes. They are considering making it a nightly event while incorporating a donation box and other activities.

"We're big animal people, so it's probably going to be something animal-centric," said Ross.

His wife, Darlene added, "We offered it to the Humane Society to use as a fundraising event, and they arranged for Santa to be here. They also will have volunteers serving hot spiced cider, snacks, giving out candy canes and, of course, accepting donations."

All donations will go toward the purchase of the Humane Society's new Concord shelter, which the nonprofit hopes to move into Jan. 1.

The couple spent more than 120 hours setting up the display. It takes about 30 minutes to "power-up," and it will be lit up each night from dusk to 10 p.m. through the new year for drive-by traffic.

Nearly half of the 30,000-plus lights are synced to a computer and pulsate to music across the one-acre lot. The couple estimates it will add about $120 extra per month on the utility bill.

Drive-by traffic can tune their car radio to 90.5 to hear the looped soundtrack of Christmas music. Ross broadcasts music through a low-power FM transmitter.

A walking trail leads guests from the front of the driveway, under a multi-colored archway of lights, along a path marked by lighted candy canes.

The display includes more than 60 animated figurines or inflatable decorations, and nearly 40 percent of the lights are of the light-emitting diode variety. The couple also builds the collection by buying clearance items at the end of each season.

Darlene Shotts said they get comments all year round.

"I can be working in the yard in the summer, and somebody will pull up and say, 'Hey, just wanted to let you know how much we enjoy your Christmas lights,'" she said. "It surprises you."