Tucked outside Ponca, Nebraska, you’ll find Julie McDowell and Gene Watchorn’s winter wonderland. It’s a decadent holiday display that landed them on the ABC show “The Great Christmas Light Fight” competing with three other families across the country for a prize of $50,000.
Gene and Julie’s front yard features more than 100,000 lights and about 90 inflatable Christmas decorations. It’s a place where Christmas cheer is contagious.
Gene and Julie have opened up their home for nearly 20 years. It started with the couple inviting local students to take a tour of the house. Now, around 3,000 people walk through the couple’s home and that doesn’t include the heavy traffic driving by.
The couple was so surprised to hear from producers in November 2016, who asked them to compete in ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight.” The couple decided to go through the lengthy application process and found out in August 2017 that they had been selected to be on the show. Shortly after that, camera crews came to Ponca to film Gene setting up in September.
Celebrity judge Carter Oosterhouse traveled to Ponca in December to judge the Watchorn display.
Then, later in December, Oosterhouse showed up a second time, so we kind of knew, at the point, or we hoped, at that point, that we had won,” Julie said.
For nearly a year, Julie and Gene kept their Christmas miracle a secret.
The couple hid their trophy and are still awaiting their $50,000 reward. Julie wants to spend it on a new roof, but said the rest belongs to Gene.
Anyone who would like to walk through the Watchorns’ award-winning display can do so starting Friday. Julie and Gene host open houses at their home in Ponca every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 6-9 p.m. The first open house is Friday, Nov. 30, and the last is Dec. 30.
If anyone is unable to make those times, you can request special tours. Tours are free and donations are accepted.
You can contact Julie and Gene at 402-755-2655 for directions or to make an appointment.