DeKALB – Nick Andreas always had an idea how he wanted his Christmas light display to look, but he couldn’t make the display a reality until last year.
“My mom told me, ‘When you get a house of your own, you can do whatever you want,’” said Andreas.
The back of Andreas’ home faces Rich Road in rural DeKalb, and he has filled his backyard with thousands of Christmas lights that flash, dim and change colors in perfect synchronization with Christmas music broadcast by a low-powered FM transmitter.
Andreas, who “has always liked to tinker,” is one of a handful of DeKalb County residents who have taken their annual Christmas displays to new levels.
“My best guess is that I have about 45,000 lights out there,” Andreas said. He began accumulating incandescent Christmas lights on sale after Christmas of 2010, and set up his first backyard display last year. The display includes eight small Christmas trees, a large Christmas tree, a series of small arches and a large arch that spans the length of the line of trees.
Merle Nevitt’s display began with just a few lights, too. The Sycamore man has slowly built up the display in front of his home on Alfred Drive for 38 years.
“It started when we bought a few lights when we lived in Cortland. We bought 25 strings of lights and I thought that was pretty neat,” said Nevitt, 74, who has been fascinated by Christmas lights since his grandfather took him as a child to see a light display near Maple Park.
“I enjoyed that and thought that when I had a house of my own I wanted to do something like that myself,” he said. Nevitt’s collection of lights and decorations has steadily grown and now includes about 15,000 lights and a variety of lighted homemade decorations like a horse and sleigh, candy canes, trees, a small train, bears, angels and an arch over the length of his driveway.
Jim Slater of Genoa has also been building his collection for more than 30 years. The collection of decorations at his home on South Genoa Street now includes a Frosty the Snowman, candy canes, lollipops, polar bears, trees, a North Pole sign and a nativity scene.
Slater’s son Matt said the family’s excessive decorations are reminiscent of the 1989 movie “Christmas Vacation.”
“We are called the Griswolds of Genoa,” he said.
Jim Slater eventually had to upgrade his electrical service to handle the additional load and add a second story to his garage to store the decorations. But he says the extra cost and effort has been worth it.
“I want the kids to tell their moms and dads to go to the Santa Claus house,” he said. “It’s fun to watch the cars go by and admire it.”
While both Slater and Nevitt live on quiet neighborhood streets, Andreas’ display is visible from a busy stretch of road, and he stresses that safety for drivers is his primary concern. He asks that motorists who pull over to watch the show turn on their hazard lights, not honk their horns and not turn around in neighbors’ driveways.
Andreas does not turn on the display in foggy weather, and he updates the display’s Facebook page regularly to announce new songs and days that the display will not be lit.
All three men begin to set up their displays in about mid-November, but Andreas spends much of the rest of the year programming the lights to music. The program includes about a dozen favorite Christmas songs.
“One minute of song programming could take anywhere from 10 to 20 hours,” he said. “I have been working on it all year. During the summer I can program it and know exactly how it will look on the outside.”
All of the displays significantly increase homeowners’ electric bills. Matt Slater joked that his mom hates the Christmas season because “she can hear the sound of the electric bill going up.” Andreas said the cost of running the display last year was comparable to running an air conditioner, but he does not seem to mind the expense.
“For me it’s worth it to see the joy it brings to the community,” he said.