Decorating For Christmas Has Already Begun
Even without snow, Christmas can be a beautiful season — yes, even in the desert. With thousands of lights, characters and blowup decorations, some Lake Havasu City residents are creating winter wonderlands in their front yards.
RiverScene Magazine has heard that some residents are already preparing their Christmas decorations for this season, so we asked them why they start so early. One of the things we learned from them was that they all have joyful memories of Christmas from their childhoods, and they all love to share those memories — and their handiwork — with others.
Swipe Right to Left to view some of the preparations that are already underway.
It Started With Grandma’s Light Bulbs
Ryan Erickson has been collecting Christmas decorations since he moved into his present home about six years ago. He usually waits for the after-Christmas sales to purchase new decorations each year. About 98 percent of his lights are LED, in all colors.
Erickson is a firefighter and also works a second job, so when October rolls around each year, he has to really push himself to get everything set up. Fortunately, his wife, Nikki, as well as family members, friends and maybe a neighbor lend a hand.
“I get out all the lights and cutouts and organize them, replace strands of lights if necessary, and I touch up and seal the cutouts,” Erickson said. “By November, I’m ready to start decorating. It takes about three solid weekends, but I’m getting faster.”
Erickson creates cutouts and incorporates characters from famous Christmas movies into his display. “I have wood cutouts of characters like the old Claymation Christmas shows, the Grinch and ‘Frozen’ characters.”
“Every year I change up a few things, but generally I keep it the same. I also add a new TV character(s) every year. This year’s character (without giving too much away) is a Cotton-Headed Ninny Muggins.
Erickson’s displays are popular with adults and kids. “A lot of people told me that they couldn’t go downtown with their kids at night without having to drive by my house so they could see the display. One of the guys at the station has a young daughter who would put the movie ‘Frozen’ on loop, so when it came time to get some ideas, he approached me with that one, and I was able to make it happen.” What he originally envisioned was a Jack Frost with lights coming out of his hand that would simulate ice, but a coworker convinced him to instead make “Elsa” from “Frozen.”
Erickson’s love of decorating came from his parents. “My mom always went all out on the inside of the house, while my dad took care of the outside. They really did a lot for us kids growing up.”
His love of Christmas also came from his parents. “There are a lot of things I really love. Getting together with family and friends would probably top the list, but also everyone just seems to be in a better mood, I don’t know what it is about that time of year.”
People who come by his house to see the display have a fondness for different characters. Erickson’s personal favorites are the reindeer and sleigh with Hermey and Rudolf.
Explaining why he goes “over the top” in decorating at Christmas, Erickson said, “It’s almost like a sickness. It started with some old-fashioned large glass bulbs that my grandma gave me when I moved out on my own. I was renting a room from a friend at the time and he gave me the OK to hang some lights on the house. When he got home later that day, every corner of the house was outlined in Christmas lights. When I finally purchased my own home, LED lights were the ‘new thing.’ I moved in right before Christmas, and grandma’s lights were becoming a bit of a fire hazard and had to go, so I didn’t have lights up that year, but I did discover how cheap lights were after Christmas, so every year, my arsenal keeps growing larger.”
Erickson was born in Kenosha, Wis., and moved to Lake Havasu in 1993, graduating from Lake Havasu High School in 2000. He has been a firefighter for almost nine years and is a Captain for Desert Hills Fire Dept.
Erickson’s display is turned on Thanksgiving night and it’s turned off on New Year’s Day. It can be viewed at 3334 Thunderbird Drive.
Glinda and David Jones start pulling out their Christmas decorations in September. The 400-square-foot loft area in their RV garage is where they store 400,000 lights, mostly LEDs, an 18-foot Ferris wheel, a 20-foot metal Christmas tree, several smaller trees, three large arches and a multitude of other assorted decorations.
“When we start planning,” Glinda said, “the positive energy starts! This is our way of giving something to the community.”
The work starts in September because it takes quite a while for Glinda to test every light and replace any that have burned out. But the actual work on the display starts Jan. 1 each year. When they take down the displays, David immediately starts working on the next year’s computerized light display, as the lights are synchronized to music. David estimates it takes 500 hours to program the lights each year, using 122 computer channels. They have 12 different songs — six are Christmas carols and six are non-Christmas.
It takes them three weeks, eight hours a day to set up all the displays, and the lights are turned on Thanksgiving night.
The Joneses use 400 extension cords, 850 feet of computer cable, 30 80-pound bags of sand to hold displays on the roof (because one year one of the displays was blown off the roof), and 5,000 feet of PVC pipe for the display. David uses a backhoe to get some of the displays up on the roof.
David has been decorating for more than 20 years, but this is the fourth year that he is synchronizing the lights to music. If they want, visitors can tune their radios to an FM station to listen to the music.
When David and Glinda married six years ago, Glinda became a very willing partner in the project because she also loves Christmas. She hands out the candy canes to every single person who visits or drives by their display, and by counting the thousands of candy canes they hand out, they can determine how many people visit their display. Last year, they estimate they had 300 to 500 cars a night, and a total of 14,000 candy canes handed out. Buses from local assisted-living facilities come by every year so their residents can enjoy the light show, and they even have tour buses and shuttle buses filled with holiday revelers.
“We meet the nicest people,” Glinda said. “We’ll have total strangers stand in our driveway looking at the display and having the greatest time meeting each other. They enjoy it so much that some people come by every night.”
“Many people want to donate toward the upkeep of our display, but the only donation we will accept is candy canes,” Glinda said. “Now a lot of people bring us bags of candy canes when they come to see the show.”
“We go from store to store, buying up all the candy canes they have,” David added, “but it’s never enough. Sometimes we’ve had to run to the stores at night to find more candy canes because we were running out.”
Their neighbors seem to be happy to have the Joneses’ display in their midst. “They often invite guests to their homes to watch the light show,” David said.
David and Glinda have a goal of one million lights. The thought of paying the electric bill for a display like that would make the average person shudder, but David said their present display only adds about $50 or $60 a month to their electric bill.
They change the layout and design a little every year, and they add something new every year. This year’s addition is a larger-than-life mechanical Santa that dances to music. Glinda’s own addition this year is a Ms. Claus suit, which she will wear when she hands out candy canes.
David’s dream is for his neighborhood to eventually become one huge display, and in fact, he’s helping two neighbors with their displays this Christmas. He is willing to design other neighbors’ displays if they would purchase the materials. He would be able to operate the computer programs from his house.
David restored classic cars for 40 years, then began carving wooden toys. His business, Toy2Treasures, is doing well; he ships out 500 to 1,000 toys a year. He carves cars, trucks, fire engines, Santa’s sleighs and reindeer, and makes, as far as he knows, the only bright pink fire truck, “Because girls like fire trucks, too,” he said. “A fireman’s daughter wanted a fire truck, so I made a pink one for her, and now they’re very popular.”
Most of the RV garage is devoted to pieces of woodworking machinery, shelves lined with wooden toys, and tables to work on them.
Glinda works full-time at the Lake Havasu High School as the bookstore manager.
The Joneses’ display is open from Thanksgiving night until New Year’s Day, from 6 p.m. to about 11 p.m., but they will leave the display on if there are still people coming to enjoy it. Their address is 251 Cottonwood Drive.
Tee Taylor is carrying on his parents’ tradition of decorating at Christmas.
“Every room in our house had candles in the windows,” Taylor recalled. “My parents always decorated, and I wanted to continue that.”
Taylor was raised in New Jersey and moved to Lake Havasu in 1991. He is a 20-year veteran of the Army, and also worked for 22 years at Lake Havasu High School, 17 as the head cook. Today he still works at the high school as security.
Taylor and his wife, Beth, have two grown children, a daughter, Leah, who lives in Havasu, and a son, Jesse, who lives in Denver.
Taylor incorporates a number of blowup figures in his Christmas display, including a snow globe, a 20-foot Christmas tree, a 10-foot spiral tree, and a Santa that sits in a rocking chair.
“The parents love to take pictures of their children sitting in the rocking chair with Santa,” Taylor said.
The Taylors use about 30,000 lights in their display, mostly incandescent, and he adds more every year.
Taylor has been putting up Christmas decorations all his life, but usually had just lights until last year when he decided to get more creative and synchronize the lights to music. He uses 18 Christmas songs in the program, and he estimates it takes him about 30 hours to program one song, as each song must be programmed second by second.
This year, Taylor is adding something new for the kids: a Santa’s Toyland. He built the 7-foot by 7-foot house, 7 feet high, which children will be encouraged to go into. He is furnishing it with a table and chairs, toys, dolls, games and puzzles for the kids to enjoy. They will even have a train to watch as it makes its way around the Toyland.
Tee and Beth will start setting up their display about mid-October this year. The lights will be turned on Thanksgiving evening and run every night through New Year’s Day from 6 to 10 p.m. The Taylors hand out candy canes to all who come to see their display.
Taylor said many people want to donate something to help pay for the electricity to run their display. But he donates the money to the Interagency Council. Last year, he was able to give Interagency $850. People also bring pickup trucks full of food and toys, which also go to Interagency for families in need.
Asked why he goes to so much trouble to decorate, Taylor responded, “Because I enjoy meeting new people and seeing their kids enjoying the display. We get a lot of cards every year from people thanking us for doing this.”
The Taylor’s address is 3411 Buckboard Way.
Alex Dennen recalls always helping his father put up the Christmas decorations when he was a boy. He especially liked helping his dad put lights and decorations up on the roof. When he eventually had his own house, it was natural to continue the tradition.
Dennen was born in Apple Valley, Calif., and lived in Southern California most of his life. In 2006, he was living in San Diego when he and his wife, Sara, bought their first home. When Christmas came, he couldn’t wait to put lights up. Every year, he covered the whole house with lights — around the windows, doors, trees, and bushes.
Dennen builds custom cars and hot rods, and when he got a job offer two years ago, he and Sara moved to Lake Havasu. He works for Crash Customs, and his boss, who has an art degree, is helping him make and paint cutouts, which will be new this year. Although he has been decorating for Christmas for many years now, when he moved to Havasu he really ramped it up.
About 60,000 to 80,000 lights, some LED and some incandescent, are used in their display. Every tree, bush and cactus is covered with lights, but Dennen thinks their “wow” factor is their roof, which is completely covered with lights.
He’s always preferred “traditional” Christmas displays.
“To me, the excitement of Christmas is that moment when you realize it’s Christmas morning. I enjoy the tradition of it,” Dennen said.
And those traditional Christmas decorations are what he continues to use: Santa and his sleigh and reindeer on the roof, lighted Christmas trees and candy canes.
His favorite part of decorating is being up on the roof putting up lights, as he did with his dad years ago.
Dennen scours yards sale throughout the year for lights and decorations he can add to his display.
This weekend the Dennens will bring out the lights and blowup decorations, and he and Sara will begin checking the lights for any that have burned out.
“My 5-year-old son, Travis, helps us decorate,” Dennen said proudly. “He even goes up on the roof with me. We also have a 1-year-old son, Dominic, but it will be a while before he’ll be ready to help us.”
Dennen is thinking of adding synchronized music next year. Although he isn’t proficient yet with programming music, he has a friend who will teach and help him do the programming.
Dennen said there’s a rumor that Santa will be at their display one or two weekends before Christmas. There will be hot cocoa for everyone, and parents will be encouraged to take photos of their children with Santa.
The Dennens plan to turn on their display Thanksgiving night, and the lights will be on until New Year’s Day. Their address is 3099 Saratoga Ave.