Bright Christmas: Sask. man's holiday display raises money for mental health

What started as one tree strung with lights has grown into a winter wonderland and an unexpected bright spot for people to open up about mental health.

Ian Moats invites visitors to donate to support hospital's mental health unit

Ian Moats has decorated his McLean-area acreage with 35,000 Christmas lights, with visitors invited to donate to the Regina General Hospital's mental health unit. (Photo by Marina Holtzman)

What started as one tree strung with lights has grown into a winter wonderland and an unexpected bright spot for people to open up about mental health.

"Life leads you places you don't expect and you just try to do the best while you're there," said Ian Moats, whose acreage near McLean, Sask., 40 kilometres east of Regina, features 35,000 lights and frost-tipped trees.

He said that once people come to his home and realize they feel safe, they sometimes open up to him about their struggles.

"It's surprising how many people have their own mental health story but just don't share because of stigma or fear."

Supporting the local mental health unit is a cause close to Ian Moats' heart, after his daughter spent time at the unit. He now drops off flowers there on a regular basis. (Ian Moats/Facebook)

Five years ago, Moats strung up some lights along a tree and liked how it looked. Soon decorating became an obsession.

He began buying lights whenever he saw them for sale. As his display grew, visitors and neighbours would stop by to visit.

Mother Nature adds her own touch to the winter wonderland, as frost-laden trees are lit up with a multitude of lights. (Photo submitted by MJ Deans)

As the numbers grew, Moats started inviting visitors to support the mental health unit at the Regina General Hospital.

His 23-year-old daughter has stayed in the unit at a difficult time in her life and Moats attends a family support group there.

"Any time I was there, the games were old, the pencil crayons were all little stubs," he said, explaining the unit does what it can with the budget that it has, but that medical needs come before recreational ones.

"For somebody that's staying long-term, it's important to have things they can do to pass the time."

If everybody did one little thing, it would make it a lot better.- Ian Moats

Last year visitors to his display donated $1,300 toward the cause, enough for Moats to buy art supplies, pens, paper and other items the unit requested, he said.

"I don't raise enough money to open up a mental health ER, but that's what Regina needs," he said. "If everybody did one little thing, it would make it a lot better."

This year Moats is once again opening his home to visitors. The lights are turned on for six hours each evening, starting at dusk.

He'll also be having an open house on the evening of Dec. 22. People are invited to enjoy a bonfire, hot chocolate and cookies and donate to the cause, if they wish.

Ian Moats' neighbour Maxine Hanofski helps with festive decorations for the garage, and brings in cookies and treats as well. (Submitted by Maxine Hanofski)

His neighbour Maxine Hanofski helps out by bringing cookies. She said the atmosphere, with the music and twinkling lights, leaves her awash in nostalgia. 

"[It] brings back happy childhood memories of family, friends and neighbours gathering together at this special time of year," she said. 

Beyond helping a good cause, Moats said he simply draws joy from the lights.

Whenever he turns on the Christmas lights, he thinks of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Chevy Chase's ear-to-ear grin when he does the same.

"That's how I feel when I turn on the lights, and that's how I feel when people come and see it and enjoy it," he said. 

"It just makes me happy."

About the Author

Janani Whitfield

Janani Whitfield spent 10 years working in the newspaper industry in Alberta before joining CBC Saskatchewan as a web writer in 2017. Contact her at janani.whitfield@cbc.ca on on Twitter, @WhitfieldJanani.

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