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Even in tough times, holiday spirit trumps all

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(CNN) -- With an outdoor display of 150,000 Christmas lights, Bob and Raquel Cox saw their electric bill increase $400 last December. This year, the couple expects to pay an even larger bill: They strung 210,000 lights outside their Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, home.

George Byrne has six Christmas trees in his home and considers his decorations a way to give back to others.

Bob and Raquel Cox spent more than six months hanging and syncronizing 210,000 holiday lights.

But the extra cost is worth it, Bob Cox said.

"It's our gift to the community," he said. "We love seeing all the smiling faces."

The couple started hanging outdoor Christmas lights in 2004. The following year, they had "more lights than your average home," Bob Cox said. Now, their light display is grabbing national attention.

Raquel Cox spent more than six months computer-programming the lights to synchronize with 10 Christmas songs, and it took the family about three months to hang the lights.

"It's become a year-round hobby at this point," Bob Cox said. See 210,000 lights dance to music

The Coxes are by no means the only homeowners who go above and beyond when it comes to Christmas decorations, even in tough economic times. Dozens of iReporters shared photos and video of their over-the-top holiday displays.

For eight years, Karyn and Kevin Pancow have strung thousands of Christmas lights outside their home. Their impressive light displays, synchronized to holiday songs broadcast through a low-bandwidth radio transmitter, delight neighbors and local residents who come by to watch the show every December.

After the owner defaulted on mortgage payments, the Pancows were forced to leave their Denver, Colorado, home in October and move to a nearby residence, one that is hidden from main roads. But that didn't stop them from hanging more lights and nearly doubling the number of holiday songs, with a total of 37,000 lights synchronized to 28 Christmas tunes.

"We had to move next door to a house we didn't like very much," Karyn Pancow wrote on "The house is harder to see unless you know where to look from local streets."

Pancow said her husband acted like "a little scrooge" when hanging the Christmas lights this year, but the effort was worth it once neighbors said that they were anticipating the light show.

"It was worth it when folks said they were looking forward to it all year ... hoping he would put it up again," she wrote. Watch the Pancows' holiday light show

Even though fewer people have come by to see their light display this year, Kevin Pancow said it's worth it. "If you made one person's day, to me, that's the whole point."

"I don't care about the electric bill," he added. "I just like to spread a little cheer."

Thomas Nava said his family's Chicago, Illinois, home is the "most decked out holiday house" in the area.

"We do extreme decorating," he wrote on "We add new things each year as well as change things around so each year is unique."

Their yard features three large inflatable displays. There are lighted reindeer, polar bears and penguins, and a toy shop complete with Santa Claus and elves. And of course, it wouldn't be the "ultimate" display without plenty of fake snow. See a slideshow of their decorations

Neighbors joke that the Navas remind them of Clark Griswold, with his extreme holiday decorations, in the 1989 comedy "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."

Nava, 20, said his parents, Dianne and Tom, started decorating their home for the holidays more than two decades ago. Now he and his 18-year-old brother have taken on the responsibility of putting up the outdoor display.

"It's great to see the kids love the decorations," Thomas Nava said. He added that onlookers have lined up in cars for more than a block waiting to see the display.

The family is trying to save cash and go green this year by installing LEDs and compact fluorescent bulbs. Last December, their electricity bill went up about $200.

George Byrne of Portsmouth, Virginia, has an extensive indoor holiday display with six Christmas trees and more than 10,000 ornaments, some of which date from the 1800s. It takes about three weeks to decorate, he said. Photo Check out holiday displays around the world »

Although Byrne said he hasn't been personally affected by the economic crisis, his family has organized a "Pollyanna" gift exchange this year, where each person chooses a name and buys gifts for that family member only. This is the first year the family has limited the number of gifts. "It gets too expensive," Byrne said.


The professional photographer said he hopes his holiday display brings cheer to those who are struggling financially. "People are having to cut back on gifts this year, but this is a way to give back a little."

Byrne loves this time of year, even considering the economic crisis. "When everything is in turmoil, it's the most peaceful time in the world. Everyone is happy and nice."

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