'Twas the Fight Before Christmas

“Twas the Fight Before Christmas” on Apple TV+ chronicles the battle between lawyer Jeremy Morris and his West Hayden Estates neighbors over his Christmas display.

Yuletide bad blood has flowed for years in film. Who can forget Kevin’s issues with his bullying brother Buzz in “Home Alone”? How about Clark Griswold losing it during “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’s” “Home for the Holidays,” when he bellowed “We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny bleeping Kaye!”

The aforementioned iconic characters are fictional. The same can’t be said for Jeremy Morris and his disgruntled neighbors who are the topic of a documentary, “ ’Twas the Fight Before Christmas,” which debuted in late November on Apple TV+.

Morris and his wife, Kristy, started searching for a larger home the day after Christmas 2014 for their elaborate Christmas productions. For years, Morris, much like Griswold, draped his Grouse Meadows house in Hayden, Idaho, in myriad lights. Morris had a 35-member choir belt out Christmas songs in front of his house. The spectacle also included a camel and endless cups of hot chocolate and sticks of cotton candy.

However, it was time to relocate. The attorney moved into a massive home in West Hayden Estates during spring 2015 with dreams of a colossal holiday extravaganza dancing in his head. Many of his new neighbors, who were hip to his concept thanks to his recordings from Christmas past posted on Facebook, were against Morris’ holiday display.

The spectacle attracted thousands to the subdivision in 2015 and 2016. An endless parade of cars and shuttle buses jammed the streets during the mega-Christmas productions by Morris at the development.

The West Hayden Estates homeowners association and Morris have been embroiled in a half-decade-long fight. It’s a case of religious discrimination, according to Morris.

“I feel like the protector of Christmas who will do everything to save Christmas,” Morris says in the film.

Morris tries to start a holy war, but his neighbors stress it’s not a religious issue.

“My neighbors are domestic terrorists,” Morris declares.

The battle made headlines around the world. Director Becky Read was struck by a story about the civil war a world away from her kitchen in South London in July 2019.

“The story was in a national newspaper in the U.K.,” Read said. “It was obvious that there was more than one side of the story.”

Read visited the development in September 2019.

“It was apparent that this bizarre Christmas tale was about something more serious than a Christmas light fight,” she said.

The challenge for Read was to interview Morris’ neighbors on the record since they contend they were bullied by Morris and feared lawsuits.

“I needed their side for there to be a film,” Read said. “Without them, the film would have been unmakeable.”

It didn’t take much for Read to elicit commentary from the media-savvy Morris, who supplied plenty of his own footage.

“Jeremy is a lawyer who is a fastidious keeper of notes and has an extensive video archive,” Read said. “He has all of his Christmas shows and, well, his whole life to draw from, as well as videos of his neighbors.”

Morris shot footage of an elderly neighbor walking three dogs, which is an HOA violation. Only two dogs can be walked along West Hayden Estates. Morris wore down the beleaguered Jennifer Scott, who resigned as president of the West Hayden Estates HOA.

“I’m like a thousand times smarter than these people,” Morris says. “And I can lay traps and set them up every single time.”

Unlike the blockbuster films “Home Alone” and “Christmas Vacation,” which feature Hollywood endings, the unresolved Christmas battle is ugly and sad. The initial ruling was in favor of Morris but was overturned by a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. While waiting in appeal, Morris says he will take his case to the Supreme Court if necessary.

It’s a flying Dutchman of a case, which isn’t so for the documentary, which was turned around in rapid fashion.

“It came together very quickly,” Read said. “It helps that it takes place in one neighborhood. COVID was a headache.”

But the pandemic helped since the folks in West Hayden Estates were close to home during the filming. Read was taken aback by how different Idaho was from her hometown during the pandemic.

“In London, I couldn’t get a haircut, but in Idaho, you could do hot yoga,” Read said. “Idaho was so lax. It was quite a shock.”

But Read enjoyed her time in north Idaho.

“I loved it,” Read said. “One of the best parts of my job is that you get to go to places that you normally wouldn’t visit. You get to meet normal people living normal lives. It’s really fab.”

However, there is little normal about the Christmas fight in West Hayden Estates.

“Jeremy is very eccentric,” Read said.

Will Morris reprise his beloved Christmas extravaganza and thumb his nose at the law this month?

“He’s been threatening to do it and face consequences, which would be contempt of court or going to jail,” Read said. “I don’t know if he is planning to do it now.” Sounds like a sequel could be on the horizon. “Twas the Fight Before Christmas” is available on Apple TV+.

Originally published in The Spokesman-Review