‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas’ Director on Feuding Neighbors, Holiday Lights and the U.S. Political Divide

Seven years ago, thousands of people descended upon Jeremy and Kristy Morris’ “Christmas House” in suburban Idaho, where holiday lights, a camel and a 35-member choir singing carols beckoned festive visitors. The holiday event, which served as a fundraiser for children with cancer, was so big that the couple decided that they needed a bigger house with more property for the following year’s festivities. U.K. based director Becky Read chronicles the ensuing neighborhood war and legal battle over the family’s 2015 holiday event – litigation is still pending appeal — in her Apple TV Plus documentary “Twas the Fight Before Christmas.”

Executive produced by prolific filmmaker Chris Smith, the offbeat, dark and comedic docu offers various perspectives of a Christmas event gone wrong and sheds light on a divided America. In advance of the documentary’s Nov. 26 debut, Read explained why she was drawn to the project and her take on the political battle the holiday decorations inspired.

After reading about the Morris’ Christmas dispute with his neighbors in Idaho, you decided to visit the town of Hayden to meet with all involved. What made you think that this story would make a good documentary?

The headline alone – “War on Christmas lawsuit” and ‘camel’ in capitals — struck us that this was a Christmas story with a twist. It was immediately interesting that this small-town story had hit national news in the U.K. Of course, if it resonates beyond a small town in the U.S.A., then there might be a wide doc audience. It seemed extraordinary that an argument about a Christmas show ended up in a jury trial – so the conflict that storytelling is all about was built in – one side wanted one thing and the other side wanted another.

How did you gain the trust of not only Morris, but also his parents and the various neighbors who were not enthralled with his annual Christmas event?

It will be of no surprise that Jeremy himself was very happy to tell his story and was even suggesting (and still is) that we make a series out of this, a sequel or his life story. Kristy, his wife, was very reluctant. While Jeremy enjoys having his say and seems comfortable being in situations of conflict, Kristy is very different in that she doesn’t want the attention and is also worried about their children.

I felt it was important for Kristy to be on board, she adds vital context, explains the challenge of being married to someone like Jeremy, who doesn’t do things by halves, and was able to express things that I don’t think Jeremy could or would on camera.

It was extremely difficult to get the neighbors to trust me and decide to take part. Many thought that, because Jeremy is very open about his life to the press and had previously contacted the news, that he had called us and that we were making the film for him or with him. So I began by having to undo that perception.

I spent from July-September 2019 writing to and calling people, then on the ground knocking on their doors, mailing letters, and trying to explain that I very much wanted to understand their perspectives on all of this. I was able to get some people to talk to me on camera for the sizzle tape (two of whom later changed their mind about being in the doc) and some would talk only off the record and off-camera. The main concern was further litigation from Jeremy and how the neighbors would be perceived.

In December 2019, it became apparent that I was going to need to talk to Jeremy about the litigation issue. We sat in his office, and I explained that hearing other people’s stories was crucial for the film to work and that they were all too worried about him pursuing litigation against them over anything they said on camera. He agreed that he would not pursue litigation against anyone for anything they said in the film which went some way to helping reassure others.

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Seven years ago, thousands of people descended upon Jeremy and Kristy Morris’ “Christmas House” in suburban Idaho, where holiday lights, a camel and a 35-member choir singing carols beckoned festive visitors. The holiday event, which served as a fundraiser for children with cancer, was so big that the couple decided that they needed a bigger…

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