Department of bright ideas 

Had the Ghost of Christmas Future looked in on little Devin O’Neill years ago, as he—the designated decorator in his eight-kid family—trimmed the O’Neill’s Butte home with Christmas lights, he might have smiled. Little did little O’Neill know that one day he’d be head of a crew that designs sophisticated holiday light displays, or that he’d get paid to hang Christmas lights for those too old or too rich or too scared to climb a ladder to hang their own.

O’Neill started Old West Holiday Lighting in 2004 to complement his seasonal lawn business. Homeowners hire O’Neill to pick out, buy, install, take down and store outdoor lights. And we’re not talking about tangled two-tone strings with faint, sputtering glows. We’re talking 6-foot-tall, lit-up wreaths mounted 20 feet high; sparkling snowflakes and candy canes strung along even the highest eave; animated three-dimensional Santas successfully putting golf balls or elves methodically decorating a Christmas tree. And though these displays are a bit high-powered for Missoula, where most folks would have trouble stomaching the average $700 price tag, they aren’t exactly cutting edge. The new apex of the holiday decorating world, O’Neill’s research has found, is projectors beaming massive images of angels and the like onto outer walls, controlled by wireless laptops from the warmth of the living room.

O’Neill and his crew of three are busiest the week after Thanksgiving, and at the site of one South Hills job, he draws a map showing five other homes in the same neighborhood that already carry his crew’s fingerprints.

As for O’Neill’s own home, it stays bare until just before Christmas, when he’s got everyone else’s houses done. He compares himself to the cobbler wearing worn shoes, but instantly laughs when asked whether he’d hire out the holiday outfitting of his own home. The answer is no: “I gotta have some fun myself!”

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