By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on December 8, 2021
Manns Harbor resident Michael Coley loved decorating for the holidays when he was a child.
“I was always the one in the family who put my grandma’s tree up,” the 35-year-old landscaper recalls. “I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about it.”
Coley’s love of decorating remained steadfast in adulthood as evidenced by the five Christmas trees he has in his home. But more than the trees, it’s the eye-catching Christmas display he puts up pretty much single-handedly — with occasional help — at the Manns Harbor Post Office along U.S. 64.
Each holiday season for the past 10 years, Coley has been lighting up the post office and its grounds with about 100,000 Christmas lights synchronized to about 20 different Christmas songs. For the past five years, ever since he moved in across the street from the post office, Coley has expanded that holiday display to about two and a half acres. This year, he successfully put up a total of about 300,000 twinkling lights, along with his handmade snowflakes, presents, Christmas trees, candy canes and more.
His yard is part of the display, and includes a lighted sign that reads, “Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward all Mankind.”
Coley is the landscaper for the Manns Harbor Post Office and several surrounding properties he decorates each year. He begins stringing lights in early November and during that month, it’s virtually a full-time job to get the display ready to go in the beginning of December. This year, the lights came alive on Dec. 3.
“I worked on it almost every day in November,” he said. “During the month of November, this is [almost] solely where I am at.”
Coley said he isn’t sure what motivates him year after year to get out and string the thousands of lights or build elaborate decorations that can withstand the difficult weather conditions of the Outer Banks. “I do like seeing other people able to enjoy it,” he noted. “And I guess I also the love of trying to decorate for Christmas.”
He added that, “I kind of look at it from the artistical point, so I keep the same fundamental layout, but I change and add stuff, I try to change and add stuff every year,” pointing out that each of the eight snowflakes he built takes about eight hours to complete and become more elaborate as he builds them.
“I do try to keep a budget…but every year I go over that,” he adds. Tideland EMC, the electric company, makes a monetary contribution to the cost of the electricity, and a donation box is also set up at the display.
The lights go on at sunset as long as the weather cooperates — and stay on until 9:30 p.m., Coley said. On Christmas Eve, he keeps the lights on all night weather permitting. He urges visitors to pull over into the post office parking lot or on the wide shoulder along the road for safety purposes.
The lights display is expected to run through Jan. 1.
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