Metro Detroit holiday light displays show community spirit amid challenging year

Posted at 6:23 AM, Dec 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-23 07:47:43-05

(WXYZ) — From paying tribute to a childhood friend to raising money for an important cause, or just keeping a years-long tradition alive to brighten spirits in your neighborhood – many of metro Detroit's light displays aren't just fun to look at, they have stories behind them.

For Dan Busch, a passion project he started last Christmas turned into something even more meaningful this year.

He's spent around $5,000 on a series of musically-synced light shows for his neighborhood in Livonia. He constructed the first one last year and left it up for a couple of months after Christmas. Then the pandemic hit Michigan, so he left it up through March to give his neighbors something to smile about.

And this year, he's in it for more than just entertainment.

“My father is a disabled American veteran. He is the commander of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 114 in Livonia," Busch said.

Because of the pandemic, the chapter hasn't been able to do any of its traditional fundraising this year; money that goes to support local veterans in need and their families. Busch decided to build in a charitable element to this year's display.

“I have a message that scrolls across the screen," he explained. It tells visitors how to donate. There’s a PayPal link on our Facebook Page at Busch Family Lights.”

In Macomb Township, neighbors can't miss a gorgeous 36-foot gorgeous Blue Spruce, adorned with 2,200 lights and even requiring a special team to string them up.

But what people might not know is that it’s a tribute to Derek Rau. The 7th grader passed away in 1999 from a brain hemorrhage. His childhood friends planted a tiny, 3-foot tree that Christmas to remember him by.

“I think it definitely is a source of just light and hope," said Macomb Township resident Kristen Sirhan. "Derek’s life was cut so short and just to see this tree stand the test of time, it’s blue spruce, it never sheds. It’s growing bigger.”

Next, we head to warren.

“This has really been a labor of love almost my whole life," said Jennifer Jenkins, a Warren resident.

Jennifer Jenkins is talking about collecting retro blow molds.

“My parents have been collecting for over 40 years. And it just started out with a couple of pieces," Jenkins said. “A lot of these pieces go back to 50s and 60s.”

Now they’ve got around 600. They’ve come from all over – garage sales, antique stores and some have even been donated.

“We opened the front door and saw this beautiful penguin sitting there on the front porch," said Jenkins. “We had this penguin and wanted to donate it to go with the collection.”

The display, which takes about three weeks to put together, has become something of a neighborhood staple.

“So there are a lot of folks that are my age in their late 30s early 40s who grew up in this neighborhood same as I did, and now they’re coming back with their children, and they’re telling us 'I remember when this was just a little display,'" said Jenkins.

Jenkins says this year especially this display is about lifting spirits. They’ve even got a little mailbox for letters to Santa, which a couple of kids have already used.

As for Dan Busch, he’s in a competition for his display in Livonia, but his ultimate goal is just to raise as much as he can for disabled vets.