Palatine man's display wins Daily Herald holiday lights contest: How it started, how it helps others

  • Michael Murphy of Palatine started decorating his home for the holidays 16 years ago, when his then 1-year-old son challenged him to string lights to the top of a tree in their yard. His display at 722 Pompano Lane received the most online votes in the Daily Herald's 2021 holiday lights contest.

    Michael Murphy of Palatine started decorating his home for the holidays 16 years ago, when his then 1-year-old son challenged him to string lights to the top of a tree in their yard. His display at 722 Pompano Lane received the most online votes in the Daily Herald's 2021 holiday lights contest. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Michael Murphy said the thousands of lights on the second story and roof of his home take the most time to set up each year.

    Michael Murphy said the thousands of lights on the second story and roof of his home take the most time to set up each year. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted12/22/2021 5:30 AM

Every year, Michael Murphy's neighbors ask him what he plans to do differently for his holiday lights extravaganza.

"It's kind of a challenge, because I have to get as creative as I can and keep it somehow fresh," he said.

 

This year, Murphy, who lives at 722 Pompano Lane in Palatine, decided to forgo decorating his backyard and threw all he had into the front.

He painstakingly wrapped the second story of the house with thousands of multicolored lights, meticulously lined the roof with additional rows of lights, and placed more than a dozen snowmen, Santas, Christmas trees, candy canes, penguins, reindeer and more on the lawn.

He also set lights on bushes and trees, the latter requiring some jiggering.

"I run the wire from the basketball hoop up to one tree to the next and to the next, so people don't trip on cords."

Michael Murphy is the 2021 Daily Herald Holiday Lights Grand Prize award winner for the display outside his family's home at 722 Pompano Lane in Palatine. Every year people leave decorations on his porch after Christmas that he uses the next year.
Michael Murphy is the 2021 Daily Herald Holiday Lights Grand Prize award winner for the display outside his family's home at 722 Pompano Lane in Palatine. Every year people leave decorations on his porch after Christmas that he uses the next year. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

And as a new feature, he installed a collection box where people can donate nonperishable food items that he delivers to the Palatine Township Food Pantry.

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All that effort earned him the grand prize in this year's Daily Herald holiday lights contest. As the top vote-getter, he will receive a $250 gift certificate redeemable at Ala Carte Entertainment restaurants throughout the area.

"I am flattered. It's kind of shocking," he said.

Murphy and his wife, Wendy, have lived in Palatine since 2005. They have two children, 14-year-old Emily and 17-year-old Tyler. Naturally, they are embarrassed when friends ask if that's their home, their father said.

Murphy starts decorating in late October, spending 50 to 60 hours on weekends until about Thanksgiving. Many of the decorations were donated by strangers, showing up on his porch after the holidays -- once on Christmas morning -- and even in the middle of summer, he said.

"I've kind of become the Misfit Toys of the neighborhood," he said, referring to the Christmas movie "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys" about an island where unwanted toys end up.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Each year, Michael Murphy finds decorations left anonymously on his porch, so he uses them as part of his holiday display at 722 Pompano Lane in Palatine.
Each year, Michael Murphy finds decorations left anonymously on his porch, so he uses them as part of his holiday display at 722 Pompano Lane in Palatine. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

"I love that people would do that. Those have sentimental value. I wish I could thank them."

The annual decorating started when Tyler was a year old and asked for lights on top of a tree in the family's front yard, Murphy said.

"That was a fun little challenge," he recalled. "People would say, 'That's pretty cool,' and it evolved from there. ... It felt good when I got neighbors bringing their grandkids over. That kind of got me motivated."

Besides the cost of purchasing some of them, the decorations add very little to the family's electric bill because he uses energy-saving LEDs and turns off the display at about 10 p.m., he said.

Many neighbors say they enjoy it, but there are some who deem it excessive and dislike the gawking drivers passing by, Murphy said.

"Some think I am out too early. But if I am going to get it done, I have to start early," he said. "I love it. I think it's so fun and festive."

Michael Murphy is the grand prize winner of the 2021 Daily Herald holiday lights contest. He says he starts hanging the thousands of lights on the siding of his house in late October.
Michael Murphy is the grand prize winner of the 2021 Daily Herald holiday lights contest. He says he starts hanging the thousands of lights on the siding of his house in late October. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

So what can people expect next year?

Before winning the Daily Herald contest, Murphy had planned to scale back his display by about 50% in 2022, because his wife doesn't like him going on the roof. After winning, however, he's debating whether to "go out on a high" or "come back and do it again."

As for whether he'll stick to decorating only the front yard, "I do have a few people walking the bike path (behind the house) saying, 'What about the back?'" he said. "I can't make everyone happy, right?"

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