Season of lights
They don't do it for glory or fame. Awards are nice, but they're just a bonus. For these holiday lighting enthusiasts, the real joy is found by passing it on.
"It just makes people feel good," said Jeff Eliason, who has netted five awards from the annual Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce residential lighting contest over the years. "It brightens up the city."
"For all the joy it brings everybody, it's worth it," said Deanna Fetters, whose East End display has won awards for Most Creative and Best Use of Lights.
Last year, her yard boasted 20,000 lights, 15 inflatables, a candy cane forest and a manger scene. Lights blinked and dimmed in time to Christmas carols.
"Once I get started, I can't seem to quit," Fetters said. "It's my favorite time of the year."
Inflatable decorations are her Achilles heel.
"I found an inflatable store online, which was my demise," the East End woman said with a laugh. "Click, click, click."
Across town in Billings Park, Eliason has already begun to decorate his yard. People have started stopping by to see the bright display, which should be complete within about a week and a half.
"I've always decorated," said Eliason, who owns People's Drug Store. "I only enter the contest because they give money to charity."
There is no fee to enter. For every entry, Chamber ambassadors will donate $5 to the Superior Middle School's Clothing Closet for students in need. Prizes are awarded in five different categories - Country Choice, Ambassadors Choice, Best Use of Lights, Spirit Award and Master's Division.
"I think it's kind of competitive for some people," said Jan O'Brien. "Others they just want to share what they've done."
Over the years, the chamber has had as many as 60 entries. In recent years, an average of 40 families have entered the contest.
"It would be nice to get back up to 60, 80 or more," O'Brien said.
The deadline to sign up for the contest is Dec. 2 with judging taking place from Dec. 5-8. Winners will be announced Dec. 10.
Fetters is waffling over whether to decorate her yard this year. Her holiday joy has left its mark on her home. Seven double outlets have been installed, and two extra breakers put in. A shed on her property is loaded with holiday lighting supplies, including 15 heavy-duty cords and 200 extension cords.
The annual display has also touched her heart. Two years ago, a boy walked up with a box of candy. It was a thank you gift from him and his mother, who enjoyed driving past Fetters' lights every evening.
Five years ago, a young couple sat down beside her manger scene one evening and told their 4-year-old the Christmas story.
"It was absolutely the meaning of Christmas to me - a perfect moment," Fetters said.
And in recent years, her lighting display has sparked holiday spirit in the neighbors.
"Since I started lighting up this part of our world, the neighbors are doing more," she said.
The thought of putting up thousands of lights may seem daunting, but these experts say that isn't the case. For Eliason, setting up the display serves as quiet time.
"It's relaxing for me to do it," he said.
Once posts are pounded in for the lighted swag that surrounds her property and the high altitude lights are done, Fetters said, "The rest is nothing but fun."
She had a few tips for anyone interested in decorating their home this year: Group items in themes, be ready for the breakers to go while you're trying to balance the electrical load and watch out for squirrels.
"The squirrels will chew the wires," Fetters said. She suggested filling a water bottle with a cayenne pepper solution and spraying it on the wires to keep the furry critters away.
Eliason has brought his holiday lighting bill in check by using LED lights as much as possible.
"It saves a lot of energy," he said.
Both admitted that putting up holiday decorations took work, but it was worth it.
"If you can bring somebody some joy, why not do it?" Fetters said.