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Over the Top "Hollydays"
February 7, 2011

Holly Zell › View larger image
Holly Zell on Goddard Day, June 24, 2010 Credit:NASA/Debbie McCallum
Goddard Web Producer Holly Zell has always loved Halloween and Christmas, so it was natural for her to want to share these "Hollydays" with others. In 1994, Holly created her first "Hollyween" display outside her recently purchased house using life size papier-mâché tombstones, which she had to keep moving out of the rain. Says Holly, "What makes my display unique is that I build my own props. Moving into a house allowed me to finally let my creative juices go wild."

"In 2005, I really got creative with my Halloween vision and made lots of new props," continues Holly. Her props currently include a spider web, a flying ghost, a cemetery, a mausoleum, a torture chair, gallows, a dungeon mistress, the bridge of death, a skeleton lawn jockey, and numerous carved craft pumpkins. She even offers a photo booth behind the dungeon's bars. She dresses as a skeleton and becomes part of her display.

She turns her living room into an elaborate funeral parlor and hides the treats in the casket with the body. She makes treat bags that include candy, spider rings, themed erasers, and confetti. "The adults love it. Knowing how scary the display can seem, I make special arrangements for very young visitors," explains Holly, "I do everything myself. It's my show. I am Hollyween."

Says Holly, "Because of all the decorating I do for Halloween, I decorate minimally for Christmas." Instead, in 2007, Holly initiated her "Tacky Lights" Christmas Web site that lists the over-the-top displays in Fairfax County, Va. that she recommends. "'Tacky' is a term of endearment. To me, these decorations are beautiful, unique, and huge," says Holly.

Holly allows Web site viewers to vote for their favorite display and rate each house on the following scale: "Classy, Easy on the eyes, Regurgitated Christmas, Seen from space, and Holly Moly!" She takes all the photographs, verifies all the addresses, and offers route suggestions every year with input from viewers. In addition, her Web site includes her "tacky blog" that tells people when each house is fully decorated. Holly admits that she "takes this responsibility very seriously." Her work begins at Thanksgiving.

One of her favorite displays is created entirely by the homeowner and has computer-run animations similar to those at commercial light shows. Explains Holly, "My favorite decorations include a fox chasing a rabbit from hole to hole; Santa landing on the roof, going down the chimney, coming out of the chimney, and then flying back to the North Pole; and the entire story of the Nativity as told in lights." The Christmas tree inside the house is surrounded by a miniature animated Christmas village.

According to Holly, "My Christmas Web site got me my job at Goddard." Her Christmas Web site has been featured in a WETA Christmas Special and on the news radio station WTOP. Her Halloween Web site was written up in The Washington Post.

"I get so much joy and so many 'thank yous' from people. Someone recently told me that they rented a limo and took their family on a Christmas light tour using my route and now it's a family tradition." Holly grins and says, "I'm still a big kid. Halloween and Christmas are my passions."

You can view Holly's Halloween Web site, complete with scary music, at: http://www.hollyween.net.

Visit Holly's Tacky Lights Christmas Web site at: http://www.fairfaxchristmaslights.com.


Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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