By Karen Borta

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ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – This is the time of year when holiday traditions come to life.

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One North Texas tradition that goes back decades is the Interlochen Christmas lights display. In today’s Welcome to Texas report, I want to take you to the neighborhood where I grew up, for a conversation with the family who started it all.

For almost 40 years, the Christmas light displays in Arlington’s Interlochen neighborhood have drawn families by the carload– and often by the busload– from hundreds of miles around.

For many North Texans, the holidays aren’t complete without at least one annual trip through the spectacle of lights.

While most people probably don’t know how the entire tradition started, one Interlochen family knows exactly how.

In 1976, the Vernor family lived in one of the few houses built in the then-fledgling North Arlington neighborhood, and they say that year they became the first to transform their house into a winter wonderland. They remember Interlochen’s developer liking the idea so much, the following year, he started a contest, offering homeowners cash prizes as incentive.

“It was a contest,” says Jim Vernor, one of the original homeowners in Interlochen. “1977 was the first year. I think he (the developer) donated the money to get people to come out and drive through Interlochen and sell lots, you know.”

And with that, a tradition was born. But it wasn’t without frustrations.

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I grew up three houses down from the Vernor’s, and there’s no forgetting the days before residents were given placards allowing them to bypass the hours-long line of sightseers.

“In the 80’s, before they got traffic control? You could just go any way you want to… it was a madhouse,” says Vernor. His son, Jimmy remembers well, too. “You couldn’t get down the street,” he says. “There would be people, two lines of traffic, on both sides. There was no rhyme or reason to the madness. Finally, it got so big that the homeowners association got together with the city of Arlington, and they set up a path.”

The Interlochen homeowners still hold a contest every year, but these days the win comes with little more than bragging rights.

“It’s been a long, long journey, but we still enjoy it,” says Jimmy Vernor. “There’s people that you run into across the nation who’ve heard of the Interlochen lights. I take pride in that, because I was there at the beginning.”

And seeing the enjoyment it brings — makes it all worthwhile.

“They roll down the window and say, ‘Thank you, we come by every year’, and kids come out and take their picture—any negativity you might have felt goes through the window because that’s what you’re doing it for, and sometimes it takes that to remind you,” says Jimmy Vernor.

Interlochen’s light display will stay up through New Year’s Eve, but traffic control will only be in effect from December 17 through Christmas night.

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