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Published December 25 2012

Moorhead man’s Christmas display wins Griswold Award for third straight year

MOORHEAD – In October, Troy Gilbertson was scheduled to have surgery to repair his injured foot.

Then he realized if he went under the knife as planned, he’d be limited to a boot and crutches during the Christmas season.

For Gilbertson, who won the past two Clark Griswold Awards for his Christmas decorations and was intent on trying for a third this year, being laid up simply wasn’t an option.

“I told the doctor – and he laughed at me – but I said, ‘I’ve had the pain for four or five months, but I’m going to postpone it so I can get on the ladder and do my stuff,’ ” he says.

It turns out that Gilbertson was right to wait. The Moorhead man claimed his third-straight Griswold Award this year, voted by readers of The Forum as the best Christmas display in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

‘I was worried this year’

Gilbertson’s success every year comes from improving upon the previous display, he says.

This time around, he added several new trees of lights (which he designs himself), a manger scene (which he built himself), more reindeer and more lights timed to music.

Such an elaborate display takes time to perfect. His blue-and-white decorations, which he first lit right after Thanksgiving, took him about a full 40-hour week to put up with a little help from his 4-year-old daughter, he estimates.

Setting the lights to music was the most challenging part of the process, he says, and required some trial and error to get everything right.

And though difficult, the musical aspect is also the most interesting part of his display, he thinks.

“It seems to get people’s attention, more than just lights,” he says. “I think it’s a little more interesting, driving by.”

Despite his new additions, this year’s victory came as a bit of a surprise to Gilbertson, who thought his competition around the area was some of the brightest of the past few years.

“There are some really nice houses out there,” he says. “I was worried this year. There are some really pretty and highly decorated places. They have a lot of lights.”

And it’s not just the quality of local displays that Gilbertson has seen – he thinks that people seem to have put up more decorations in general than in years past.

“I’ve noticed that there are a lot more people getting into it,” he says. “Even if it’s just a strand across a tree or their gutters, I have seen more. And that’s good.”

“It means someone has something to do with their kids at night,” adds Gilbertson’s wife Nichole, who says that their family will drive around the area to view other Christmas decorations.

Over the past few weeks, both Troy and Nichole say they’ve seen plenty of cars driving by to check out their decorations, including party, tour and charter buses, many parking on the street to take time to admire the display.

But it’s not just strangers that appreciate Gilbertson’s decorations. His neighbors also seem to value the extra infusion of Christmas cheer that it brings. It probably doesn’t hurt that Gilbertson shuts everything down around 10 p.m. each night so everyone can get some shut-eye.

Allison Pettys, who lives directly across the street from the Gilbertsons, says the elaborate decorations are always appreciated by her family.

“We really enjoy it,” she says. “It’s very pleasant.”

The display has even affected Pettys’ own Christmas spirit. In the past, she says she wasn’t always a huge fan of Christmas carols. Lately, though, she admits that’s changed, in part from listening to the songs from across the street.

“I think it’s a nice addition to the community,” she says.

After he’s raised expectations for his decorations for the last three years, Gilbertson admits he’s not sure what else he can do with his display for the future – aside from covering his roof completely in strings of lights, like the original Clark Griswold did in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

“I’m actually running out of ideas,” Gilbertson says with a laugh. “I only have so much space.”

Top vote-getters for this year’s Clark Griswold Award:

1. Troy Gilbertson, 2602 Spruce Lane in Moorhead: 804 votes

2. Roger Fenstad, 4502 Timberline Dr. in Fargo: 465 votes

3. Harvey Moos, 1804 12th St. S. in Moorhead: 447 votes

4. Curt Sveum, 1731 5th St. S. in Fargo: 268 votes

5. Theresa Bruns, 77 29th Ave. N. in Fargo: 242 votes

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535