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Boulder City’s iconic Christmas House draws thousands every year

Updated December 4, 2023 - 3:42 pm

It’s arguably the most popular house in Boulder City. And for good reason.

The unassuming, single-story home at 1525 Fifth St., which was built in the 1950s, may not catch the eyes of many for 10 months of the year. But as the holidays roll around, it’s impossible for those eyes to ignore it, as for the last 20 years Dale Ryan and Dyanah Musgrave have turned their home into what has affectionately become known as the Christmas House.

The two, who both grew up in Ohio, later met in California before falling in love with both Boulder City and their house in the summer of 2004.

“I brought with us a lot of the lights I had in California and then bought many more,” Ryan said. “But let me tell you, it wasn’t even close to what it is now. Everything here I’ve either repurposed, designed or built from my own imagination. Everything I’ve built has a story to it.”

Describing his childhood Christmas memories, it sounds like a scene from “A Christmas Story,” and in fact he jokingly called himself Ralphie.

“I truly believe they based that character after me,” he said, laughing.

In those early days after moving to Boulder City, they said few neighbors decorated on their street, even though it was along the chamber’s electric light parade route. That soon changed. As Ryan began decorating their house, he offered to decorate for the neighbors, as well.

“Over the last 20 years, we’ve realized what our house has not only meant to us, but so many others,” he said. “There are so many great stories that people have growing up and coming here or those who were teenagers who are now bringing their own kids.”

While their home has become such a mainstay in the holiday lives and traditions of many, it’s not an easy task. Once September comes around, it’s not uncommon to see Ryan beginning to get things ready, but mostly behind the scenes, like repairs or replacements. As the holidays approach, he’s often in the yard for upward of 10 hours a day.

“It’s scary because we have fed this dragon and now, do we keep feeding it or do we slay it?” Musgrave asked. “My husband is not getting any younger. I watch him as he comes in, his hands are bleeding, he can barely walk, and then he has to get in the tub and soak. One way or another, we have six months into this every year. We never know what the next year brings.”

Ryan added, “I always have people asking how long I can go. I tell them, ‘This year hasn’t happened yet, and I will continue to do it as long as I physically can.’”

He noted that he does receive a helping hand from a few, specifically his good friend, Steve Parnes, whose job has been to recolor every light bulb because they tend to fade in the sunlight.

But the couple quickly added that despite all the blood, sweat and tears put into decorating every year, in the end it’s worth it.

“It’s so overwhelming that it often brings me to tears,” Ryan said of what it’s like to be part of so many people’s tradition this time of year. “We’ve heard so many heartwarming stories including those elderly people who would come here with their spouse but that spouse has since died. They come here, look at the house and remember their loved one. That makes it worth it.”

While Musgrave and Ryan provide so much to the community, in 2020, the community gave back after she was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the pandemic. Once the house was decorated, people drove by, beeping their horns, yelling out well wishes while dropping off cards and letters.

“It meant so much to me,” she said.

In 2016, the Christmas House’s popularity took a monumental leap as it won ABC’s “Great Christmas Light Fight,” a nationwide search for the best decorated home. That took them from getting about 5,000 people walking through their display to last year’s 29,000.

And yes, they are outside for four hours every night, not only greeting guests but keeping a clicker as to roughly how many are enjoying what they see. A big part of the allure for those who get out of the car is that the home’s driveway parts the light display in half, resulting in one feeling as though they’re immersed within the warm hug of the best Christmas card ever.

They said if they ever created a T-shirt with the 10 most commonly asked questions, far and away the most popular would be, “How much does your power bill increase?” They laughed and said they never reveal how much other than to say, “It’s substantial.”

But they were quick to point out that their power bill is often far less than the cost to repair or replace lighting and other features.

“People have asked us why we don’t put out a donation box,” Musgrave said. “We never want a family to come and see anyone giving a donation and them feeling like if they can’t donate, they shouldn’t be here. We never want to turn this into being about the money. This is about the joy it brings to others.”

Ron Eland is editor of the Boulder City Review. He can be reached at reland@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523.

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