Royal Oak Family Decides to Pull Plug on Christmas Lights Destination after 35 Years

High electric bills may be behind the decision to dim the lights.

The Unger Family says this will be this last year for a major holiday light display.
The Unger Family says this will be this last year for a major holiday light display.
After lighting up the corner of Washington Avenue and 12 Mile Road for 35 years, John and Ethlyn Unger are calling it quits.

This week, visitors to the Ungers' dazzling wonderland can read a sign posted to a gate with this message:

"We are posting this sign to let all of you know that this will be the last year for a major Christmas display. Due to increased electricity costs and the time it takes to put the display up, we made the decision that this, our 35th year, would be the last."

You can only go to the poorhouse once

The process of downsizing the display actually began last year after a Smart meter was installed by DTE and the family began noticing a spike in their electric bills.

Plugs had to be pulled on inflatable displays, which were previously left on all day, in an effort to be more efficient.

DTE Spokesman John Austerberry had an explanation last December for the increase in the family's bill.

"Looking back over the past two years, there is no discernible difference in usage since the AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) was installed," Austerberry said. He noted, however, the family did receive a lot of estimated bills that were lower than the actual usage. That means subsequent bills needed to be higher to make up the difference once an actual reading was performed.

This year, the higher bills to keep the yard aglow influenced the family's decision to dim the lights in 2014.

“None if any are LEDs,” Ethlyn Unger told WXYZ. “For December (the electric bill) could be anywhere from $1,200 to $1,500."

You can only go to the poorhouse once, she added.

Of chorus, the choir may go on

In 1978, when the Ungers moved to 1713 N. Washington Ave, they put up  their first modest Christmas display, which included a nativity scene and two plastic choir lawn ornaments. The rest, as they say, is history.

The display grew every year, plateauing in recent years. It takes over a month to pull out everything stored in their garage and a tent.

Over the years that original choir of two has grown to several dozen - one for each of the Ungers' children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

"We may still light the choir to rejoice the Christmas season," reads the sign on the gate.

In the meantime, the family is encouraging visitors to leave their memories, pictures and comments in a green tub beneath the sign.

Ethlyn Unger (also known as Mrs. Claus)  plans to make a memory album for Mr. Claus.

"He will so miss the lights."

If you go

  • Where: 1713 N. Washington Ave.
  • When: The lights are turned on daily from 5:30 p.m. - 10 p.m. through Dec 31. 
  • Leave a note: There is a green bucket near the main gate to leave photographs and notes.
Judy Davids (Editor) December 03, 2013 at 11:14 AM
I live not that far from the Unger home and can recall bundling up my sons many times many times over the years to witness this holiday magic right here in our hometown. We thought it would last forever. We're sorry to see it go. Thank you Unger family for giving Royal Oak this gift!
Mary Hickman Kruszewski December 03, 2013 at 01:11 PM
What a bummer! My kids look forward to this every year! And, I am always sure to drop a few dollars in the "mailbox" to help with cost. Perhaps if others would do that when they visit they could continue. But I agree4 with @Judy Davids - THANK YOU for the joy and the magic!
Shari Anderson December 04, 2013 at 10:28 PM
(((((((Doing the 'Happy Dance')))))))
Janet Payne December 04, 2013 at 11:33 PM
So sad to see the magic stop.I loved walking around the fence and my daughters always looking with amazement when they were little. We will go to look one last time. Thanks to the Unger family for 35yrs of Christmas magic not only for their own family but every family to enjoy.
Merry Merry December 05, 2013 at 12:02 AM
I wonder if something could be done to help keep this wonderful Christmas display going. I bet there are more than a few people who have LED displays gathering dust that could be donated. Maybe there is a service club or the timebank that could help with setup. It would be so nice to see community resources going toward something that gives delight to so many of the people who live in Royal oak
Ferndale December 05, 2013 at 04:07 PM
Have Obama pay for it, that would be the perfect bleeding heart liberal answer.


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