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Last year, six houses were wrapped up in sparkling lights that criss-crossed the street, demonstrating the distance some people will go in creating their over-the-top holiday light displays. The impressive group effort got the vote of Merrell Lane, chairman of the annual Holiday Decorating Contest, but unfortunately the homeowners didn’t win. The good news is that, if they apply the same effort this year the homeowners — located somewhere near Lindbergh and 66th Street — are eligible once again for the top prize in the 2008 contest. However, Lane has two words for them and any others who might like to try their hand at winning the contest: Movement and music. “The two things people usually forget are animation ... and music. You always get a few extra points if you have some Christmas carols playing,” he said. Lane, who has been the event’s chairperson for the last 15 years, will be personally visiting or sending judges to all homes nominated in this year’s competition, which has been expanded to include the Lewiston/Porter and Niagara/Wheatfield areas. New nominees will be joining an experienced group of regular competitors, according to the chairman, who has gained a pretty good perspective on how light displays in the area have grown from “elegant to extreme.” Michael Brown, a nominated homeowner on Ferry Avenue near Hyde Park, who decorated his yard with animated reindeer, icicle lights, Christmas trees and Santa Clauses, said he got a jump start on the season by putting his lights up just before Thanksgiving when the weather was so warm. Brown, who in the past decorated each year for his children, now decorates for the next generation. “The grandkids love it,” he said. The recent cold, windy weather has caused some havoc with Brown’s display, which meant a trip to the hardware store for replacements, but he, like many other area homeowners, doesn’t consider cutting back on decor. Marge Gillies, chairperson of the Niagara Beautification Commission which sponsors the event along with the Niagara Gazette, said that the one thing she’s learned is that while people love winning, they don’t typically create their light shows for the competition. “As far as receiving awards, they don't do it for that purpose,” Gillies said. “They want to celebrate their love of the season and they want to do something to make their house beautiful.” “They get a big charge out of it and I’m not making a pun,” she said, laughing. While some homeowners try to cover every square inch of their homes and property with decorations, Gillies said that judges seemed most often impressed when displays don’t mix Santas with Grinches and mangers. “We like to see a common theme,” she said, adding that the judges try to keep the competition as objective as possible, giving points on note sheets for each aspect of the decorating, from quantity to quality. This year, since the contest is expanding to Lewiston/Porter and Niagara/Wheatfield, representatives from the Lower Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce will be joining the judging efforts, which begin Monday. Final judging will occur Dec. 18, Lane said. “It’s always a fun night for both the judges and the people in the community,” he said of the final judging. As for the judges, it’s a chance to see just how creative some homeowners can be and to commend them for helping to make the season bright. “It just gives us an opportunity to highlight people who have really tried to make the community a festive place for the Christmas season,” he said. Winners will be announced Dec. 20. Those who want to nominate their home or someone else’s for consideration in the Holiday Decorating Contest can call the Niagara Beautification Commission at 285-5030 or e-mail Niagara.Beautification@verizon.net. Homes that are not nominated will still be eligible if they happen to catch a judge’s eye, Lane said. There will be one winner in each of 7 areas of the Niagara Falls region including: DeVeaux, Center City, South End, Hyde Park, LaSalle, Lewiston/Porter and Niagara/Wheatfield. There will also be one grand prize winner overall. Homeowners who have won the contest in the last five years are not eligible to participate. Homeowners can also send a photo of their homes to Holidaylights@gnnewspaper.com to have their home included in an online slideshow of holiday lights on the Niagara Gazette Web site, niagara-gazette.com.