Dex Morris, documentaries, Idaho, Jennifer Scott, Jeremy Morris, Jeremy Scott, Kristy Morris, Larry Strayer, movies, Pam Morris, Peter J. Smith, reviews, Ron Taylor, Shawn Vestal, Twas the Fight Before Christmas
December 25, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Becky Read
Culture Representation: Taking place from 2014 to 2021, mostly in Hayden, Idaho’s West Hayden Estates, the documentary film “’Twas the Fight Before Christmas” features an all-white group of people representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: Controversial attorney Jeremy Morris wages a long war with a homeowner association over his annual Christmas event that he wants to have on his front lawn, with Morris claiming that he is being discriminated against because he is Christian.
Culture Audience: “’Twas the Fight Before Christmas” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching documentaries about neighbor disputes and legal issues related to how far people will go to make their private home into a tourist attraction.
Every year, there’s usually someone who makes the local news for having a house with extravagant Christmas displays that attract crowds of people who live near and far away. Sometimes, you hear about disputes because of the way the property is decorated and because the crowds bring unwanted noise and traffic to a residential neighborhood. And sometimes, as shown in “‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas” (directed by Becky Read), the conflicts become so large, they result in lawsuits that make international news. The debate over individual rights versus community standards is shown in this fascinating documentary about how one man’s determination to have a public Christmas celebration in his front yard turned into an epic legal battle with a homeowner association.
At the forefront of the controversy is Jeremy Morris, the attorney who’s the plaintiff of the 2017 lawsuit that started this years-long legal conflict. After he moved to West Hayden Estates in Hayden, Idaho, in 2015, Morris became locked in bitter disputes with the West Hayden Estates Homeowners Association over his annual Christmas-season event that he wanted to have on this front lawn. In addition to having thousands of lights on his property and numerous Christmas displays that you might find in an amusement park, the event included a large group of carolers, a live camel, and Morris hiring buses to bring people to the event.
In the beginning of the documentary, Morris brags that at his first mega-Christmas event in 2014, he had a 35-person choir, a live camel, and numerous displays and lights—all of which he says attracted a total of 5,000 people over several days. He is also quick to mention that this Christmas spectacle was a charity event to raise money for cancer research. However, Morris never says in the documentary how much money was actually donated to this cause as a result of the fundraising.
On December 26, 2014, Jeremy says that he and his wife Kristy (who is also interviewed in the documentary) wanted the next year’s event to be bigger and better. And so, they decided to move to a bigger house and started looking that same day. Jeremy and Kristy say in the documentary that when they found the house in West Hayden Estates, they knew immediately that it would be perfect for them. In addition to having a long driveway (which is more conducive for constant traffic), the house was near the city limits, which Jeremy says he knew would work to his advantage if there were any disputes over permits.
Before buying the house, Jeremy and Kristy say they knew the house was part of a homeowner association (HOA) with covenants, conditions and restrictions (CCRs) that they received in writing before completing the purchase. However, Jeremy freely admits that from the beginning, he felt that that he didn’t need to ask permission from the West Hayden Estates HOA for his event. He says he moved into the neighborhood with the attitude that the event was going to happen, whether people liked it or not.
The beginning of “‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas” establishes that Jeremy is someone who sees himself as being on a mission to have any type of Christmas celebration that he chooses on his property because it’s an expression of his Christian beliefs. He says he’s been passionate about Christmas displays and decorations, ever since he was taught to hang Christmas lights at the age of 4 years old. The documentary’s opening scene shows him rifling through his garage to show some of his favorite Christmas decorations, including a robot given to him by his grandfather Jake (a former actor in silent films), which Jeremy says is the last thing that he has to remember his deceased grandfather.
Jeremy boasts that some people call him nicknames, such as Clark Griswold (the patriarch character played by Chevy Chase in the “National Lampoon” movies), the Christmas Lawyer or Mr. Christmas. He also says that several people advised him against participating in this documentary because they said the documentary would make him look “crazy.” He comments that he didn’t listen to that advice because people already think he’s “crazy”—and he says he likes that perception, because people will think he’s unpredictable.
Throughout the documentary, Jeremy makes extreme statements about how much Christmas means to him. “I love Christmas more than life itself,” he says in one scene. He also states in another scene: “I wanted to be the guy who saved Christmas.” In another scene, he says of his annual Christmas extravaganza: “I realized this is my ministry.” And later, he states with absolutely no irony or sarcasm: “This is not an event. This is a miracle. You don’t get permits for miracles.”
“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” does a very good job of telling both sides of this nasty war between neighbors. Among the neighbors who speak out against Jeremy Morris are spouses Jennifer Scott and Jeremy Scott; Ron Taylor, a retired law-enforcement agent; and neighbors whose last names are not revealed in the documentary but who are identified by their first names: Kim, Jennifer, Julie and Jim. These West Hayden Estates residents use words such as “peaceful,” “quiet” and “friendly” to describe their neighbhorhood.
Chris and Larry Strayer, the spouses who sold their house to Jeremy and Kristy Morris, are also interviewed and describe Jeremy Morris as “very odd” and someone who asked them a lot of unusual questions about house measurements and crowd capacities before he bought the house. Peter J. Smith, an attorney for West Hayden Estates HOA, also gives his comments in the documentary.
Jennifer Scott was president of the West Hayden Estates HOA in 2014 and in 2015. She says she experienced unrelenting harassment and bullying from Jeremy Morris, who has made the same accusations about her and some other residents of West Hayden Estates. Jennifer Scott describes communication with Jeremy Morris where he repeatedly intimidated her in phone conversations, email and text messages, to the point where she had trouble sleeping and dreaded hearing from him.
Her husband Jeremy Scott (a pastor) had to intervene during one particularly hostile phone argument between his wife and Jeremy Morris, which resulted in Jeremy Scott ordering Jeremy Morris never to contact Jennifer Scott again. She resigned as president of the West Hayden Estates HOA shortly after that incident. It was later made public during the lawsuits that Jeremy Morris had recorded conversations with people involved in the disputes without their knowledge or permission. These secret recordings were legal in Idaho.
Taylor, who was vice-president of the West Hayden Estates HOA during the early years of the dispute, describes an unfinished West Hayden Estates HOA letter that was accidentally sent to Jeremy Morris in 2015, before the letter was completed and approved by the West Hayden Estates HOA. In the letter, the West Hayden Estates HOA said that Jeremy Morris’ planned Christmas extravaganza was against the written CCRs. The West Hayden Estates HOA also threated to sue him if he didn’t cancel the event. Meanwhile, several of the West Hayden Estates residents interviewed in the documentary say that Jeremy Morris was always the one who threatened legal action first, and he loved to brag about being an attorney.
But here is the crux of Jeremy Morris’ legal arguments: The letter expressed concerns about Jeremy Morris’ Christmas event being offensive to people who are non-Christians. Everyone, including Jeremy Morris, seems to agree that this letter aggravated him immensely. He perceived it to be discriminatory to his Christian beliefs and what he feels is his right to celebrate Christmas in the way that he wants on his property. Meanwhile, the West Hayden Estates residents involved in the dispute say that being against the event is not a religious issue but an issue of neighborhood safety.
Jeremy Morris describes how he fought back: “I got a thermonuclear weapon and blew it up in their face—and I call it international media.” He went to the media with the story that the West Hayden Estates HOA was declaring war on Christmas. Outlets such as Fox News and CNN did multiple news reports.
In the documentary, some of the West Hayden Estates residents who are interviewed express disgust that Jeremy Morris, in his media interviews and elsewhere, misrepresented most of the residents as atheists or non-Christians who hate Christians and Christmas. Jennifer and Jeremy Scott say that in reality, most of the West Hayden Estates residents are Christians who have religious tolerance and love Christmas. Shawn Vestal, a columnist for the Spokesman-Review, covered the dispute and says of Jeremy Morris’ media tactics: “The ‘war on Christmas’ was kind of a hoax, really.”
Jeremy Morris had his Christmas extravaganza in 2015 and 2016, but the conflicts and paranoia got so bad that accusations of death threats flew back and forth between both sides. Jeremy Morris says he had to get a gun for protection. At the time, Jeremy and Kristy Morris had one child (a daughter), and Kristy says that she was so fearful for her safety, she temporarily had to leave with their daughter to stay with Kristy’s mother in Virginia.
If people were videotaping other people at the event, the people making the videos could be accused of harassment. The Three Percenters, a right-wing group, offered to do volunteer security at Jeremy Morris’ Christmas event in 2015, and he eagerly accepted. Jeremy Morris says in the documentary that he also hired former cops and off-duty cops with guns for additional security. A police officer identified only in the documentary as Deputy Broesch says that people were questioned over these death threat accusations, but nothing happened from these alleged threats, and the matter was dropped.
As the documentary eventually reveals, Jeremy Morris isn’t just motivated by wanting to “save Christmas.” He talks about having an unwavering sense of right and wrong and standing up to bullying. He says it stems from his childhood, when he used to be bullied for being “different.” (The movie has a brief flash of a childhood yearbook photo of Jeremy when he was a student at Grace Community School in Sun Valley, California.)
Jeremy comments, “Being an attorney is a way of combating bullying of the type that you experience when you’re older. Being an attorney is a way to gain power.” But is this a situation where someone who used to be bullied becomes a bully? Kristy Morris admits about her husband’s drive to prove that he is right: “He doesn’t know when to stop.”
The other people interviewed in the documentary who are on Jeremy Morris’ side include his parents Dex and Pam Morris, who both confirm that Jeremy Morris has had a Christmas obsession since he was a child. Pam says of her son: “Jeremy’s got a good heart. He wants people to have joy. And that’s why he has this Christmas event.”
Jeremy Morris’ other supporters who are interviewed in the documentary include a man called Don (no last name given), who says he firmly believes that the governement should have as little interference as possible in people’s lives. Don thinks that the West Hayden Estates HOA has an oppressive mentality and is ruled by “badge-heavy people”—in other words, people who throw their authoritative weight around just because they have certain titles. The other people in the documentary who speak in support of Jeremy Morris are two individuals who were hired for his Christmas extravaganza in 2015: a bus driver named Blaine (no last name given) and an unnamed man who dressed as Santa Claus for the event.
“‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas” has some scenes where Jeremy Morris is shown at home with Kristy and their three kids. In these scenes, it looks like a concerted effort is made to portray them as an “ideal” American family with traditional Christian values. However, there are times when the cracks in the marriage begin to show, such as when Kristy breaks down and cries over how this legal war is draining their finances and how the neighbors she thought would be her friends have turned into enemies. And despite the smiles that are frequently plastered on these two spouses’ faces, they often don’t look very happy.
Toward the end of the documentary, some of the West Hayden Estates residents are asked why Jeremy Morris is going through all this trouble in this legal war. They speculate that he wants attention and probably has ambitions to become a politician. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from watching “‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas” is that when a legal dispute gets this ugly and vicious, it’s not exactly consistent with the meaning of Christmas, and there are no real winners.
Apple TV+ premiered “‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas” on November 26, 2021.