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Deck the halls with boughs of gaudy

By: Layla Wilder 12/19/2006

Holly Zell became enamored with Christmas decorations after seeing an inflatable Frosty the Snowman as a little girl. When Zell, a resident of Fairfax, got a computer in 2001, she started an online list of extravagantly decorated houses and businesses to "share the joy of lights with others," she said. There are now more than 25 addresses and a map on Zell's "Tacky Christmas Lights of Fairfax County" Web site, which is well known among local holiday decoration enthusiasts. Defining tacky as "a term of endearment," Zell said she picks the places she likes the best. Zell gets five to 10 e-mails a day from people thanking her for the Web site; one family told her they rent a limousine to see the lights.

Glenn Stewart, 46, of Chantilly, has used Zell's Web site since he found it five years ago when doing an Internet search for holiday lights in the county. He calls it the "top place to find the best Christmas displays in the area" and trusts its success so much that he asked Zell not to publish his address when he turned on his own light show last week. Even without the additional publicity, Stewart's neighbor called the police to complain about the crowds.

Zell does not ask permission to publish addresses and promises to remove them if asked, but most people do not mind, she said.

Mark and Marcia Ritter spend between $2,000 and $10,000 every holiday season decorating their Centreville home, which has been featured on Zell's Web site for two years. The Ritters enjoy being on Zell's list and use her map to see other homes with their three young children, said Mark Ritter, 43. "It gives families something to go out and do," he said.

"I had no idea," said Mike Shanta, 58, when he found out earlier this week that his house has been pegged online as one of the tacky houses. "Multicolor lights on every object in the yard, trees and fences," Zell posted about the Shanta's Fairfax home. "Man, I could be selling tickets!" Shanta declared.

Bill and Dianna Evans, whose Springfield home is covered with almost 30 lighted deer figures, a moose, two polar bears and an animated pink flamingo, also do not mind the publicity, according to Bill Evans, 65. He said the couple always decorates their home "for the enjoyment of children and their neighbors anyway." "It's great to see little faces pressed up against the car glass as people drive by," Bill Evans said.

Zell has maintained her Web site while raising a son, fighting breast cancer, earning a degree in graphic arts at Northern Virginia Community College, and now working toward a bachelor's degree in computer information at Strayer University. She also creates a massive "Hollyween" display in her yard every October. "You gotta make the most of the life you get because you only get one life," Zell said. Zell, 50, who lives with her husband, William Powell, and a son, 18, expects to graduate from Strayer in May. She also plans to keep adding places to her Web site that "knock her socks off."

©Times Community Newspapers 2006

Photo of Holly Zell in front of Will St. home
Times Staff Photo/Jill DiPasquale
Holly Zell admires one of the displays on her tour of tacky Christmas lights in Fairfax County. Zell has created a "Tacky Christmas Lights" Web site with maps to homes with some of the tackiest Christmas light displays in Fairfax County.