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These articles were excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

When it comes to holiday lights setups, some Charlotte residents are turning to the pros

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Claire Donnelly
Levi Carlson clips Christmas lights to the gutter of a south Charlotte home. Carlson works part-time for Christmas Lights and Much More, a Charlotte-based holiday decorating company.

Levi Carlson balanced on a 20-foot tall ladder leaning against an imposing white-brick home in south Charlotte on a recent evening, a strand of white Christmas lights dangling in his right hand.

“Well, this sucks,” Carlson muttered as his foot slipped, just for a second, and one leg of the ladder sank slightly into the soggy mulch of the flowerbed.

After stabilizing the ladder with help from a co-worker, Carlson climbed back up and resumed slowly clipping the glowing light strand to the house’s gutter, section by section.

“I think we just got the hardest part out of the way,” he said. “From here it should be smooth sailing. It’s the corner right here — really weird angle.”

Carlson spends a lot of hours on ladders and rooftops this time of year. He works part-time for Christmas Lights and Much More, a Charlotte company that specializes in decorating people’s houses for the holidays. Angelia Schifferle started the business 13 years ago after her friends asked her for help festooning their yards. (Schifferle, affectionately known to some as “The Christmas Lady,” has seven different Christmas trees in her own home this year.)

“Most of our clients’ common requests are warm white lights. They want traditional,” Schifferle said while roaming the yard of the house off Carmel Road, supervising her employees as they untangled strings of lights and fluffed artificial greenery.

She corrected one worker wrapping mini lights around a tree, helping her space the loops an even two inches apart.

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Claire Donnelly
Moriah Olinick (left) and Terrell Washington (right) with Christmas Lights and Much More untangle a strand of lights.

“(This technique) is called ‘candy-caning,’” Schifferle said. “We do a lot of these, so we’re kind of like experts in the tree field. And you want to make sure the spacing is perfect. Because if it’s not, at night, when it’s lit, it’ll look like my dad did it. And we don’t want him doing that.”

About half of Schifferle’s clients live in $1 million-plus homes like this one. How much the decorations cost depends on what the homeowner wants and how large their house is. According to Schifferle, one house she worked on in the Lake Norman area racked up a $10,000 bill.

For roof lights and pathway lights, Schifferle charges by the foot. For lights wrapped around a tree, it’s by the strand — and the price increases if workers have to actually climb up into a tree.

“I think Moriah was in a tree for like four hours the other day,” Shifferle said, laughing, referring to one of her employees.

A growing number of Charlotteans are turning to professional decorating companies like Schifferle’s to deck the halls of their homes and businesses. Christmas Lights and Much More tripled its business during the pandemic, which Schifferle attributed to people hoping to combat the melancholy and isolation of quarantine.

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Claire Donnelly
Treva Olinick wraps lights around a tree in a technique known as "candy-caning."

“Most people are like, ‘We wanna have our house like the Griswolds,’ and we say OK,’” said Tim Guercio, founder and owner of The Christmas Team, another Charlotte company focused on holiday decorating.

(For the uninitiated: In the 1989 movie “Christmas Vacation,” Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, spends hours wrapping his family’s entire house in white lights. Once lit, the display is so bright it temporarily blinds his neighbors.)

Guercio’s business has a number of commercial clients, too, including Truist Field in uptown. The Christmas Team’s employees all wear elf hats while they’re installing lights and occasionally, according to Guercio, children mistake them for real elves. Two company bucket trucks help with installations in high or hard-to-reach places.

“If you see lights anywhere at a shopping center — Harris Teeter, Publix — that’s probably us,” Guercio said.

He thinks convenience is one of the main reasons his company has seen a steady increase in demand since its 2015 founding.

“We decorate everything, and everything’s on a timer so people don’t have to mess with it,” Guercio said, adding that The Christmas Team is also responsible for replacing any burned-out bulbs and for disassembling the decorations when the season ends.

Back in south Charlotte, Carlson with Christmas Lights and Much More said spending so much time on ladders and roofs has made him think differently about holiday displays.

“I used to work at a Dairy Queen and working there ruined ice cream for me,” Carlson said. “I like regular ice cream, but for some reason, soft serve, after that, doesn’t taste as good. It’s kind of the same with Christmas lights. So I drive by, look at the Christmas lights — (and have) flashbacks of being on a roof and stuff.”

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.