Take a ride almost anywhere in Centre County and you’re going to see varying degrees of Christmas decorations. Some households may choose to adorn one bush or fill a front window with a wreath; others are happy to pack their yards with every color and character space will allow. Some embrace the advances in technology and synchronize their lights to music, and others might be content letting the decorations make a statement from their eaves year-round. Regardless, everyone who puts up lights gets an A for effort for braving the cold.
Lights up for charity
This is the first year Steve Artz and Tom Strickler put up lights in their yard, and they hope their inaugural foray into yard decor pays off. The Port Matilda couple decided to put their display to work by literally shining light on local charities — PAWS, Childhood Cancer Foundation and the Food Bank of State College.
“We have three jars right in the yard, one for each charity,” Artz said. “ Whatever money ends up in each jar will go to that specific charity. We don’t want anyone to feel obligated to donate. ... However, all the extra traffic of people enjoying the lights will help to raise their awareness of the charities that we are supporting.”
Artz and Strickler credit Tammy and Bill Blake, of State College, with helping them to synchronize a rotating Christmas music soundtrack with thick ropes of lights. Playful elephants and bright blue peacocks share yard space with Santa. The couple said they hope to start their own tradition of raising awareness for local charities, but family tradition was the original inspiration.
“Steve’s grandfather always used to decorate to the max. I guess this is also done in his memory,” Strickler said.
A community spectacle
Jimmy and Sheri Vuccolo, of State College, said they have been decorating their home for the past seven years, and happily fill their yard with more than 30 inflatable Christmas and cartoon characters, in upwards of 10,000 energy-efficient LED lights, and their own FM radio station.
“Setup was approximately 135 hours and teardown is around 32 hours,” Jimmy said.
But the enjoyment their display brings to the community is worth every minute. He said their neighbors are good sports and that passers-by have even shown appreciation for their hard work.
“One year, a family gave us a poinsettia flower in appreciate for our display. This Thanksgiving, our neighbors had quite a crowd of out of town folks who begged us to light the display early, which we did,” Jimmy said. “We also receive several comments during the summer, how much they enjoy our display and look forward to it each year. ... We continually expand our display every year. We are already purchasing decorations for our 2015 display.”
Stumped for an idea
Brandi Triebold and her mother, Dottie, usually trim their house in lights, but this year they had a new addition when Dottie went all DIY.
They cut down three trees this fall and were trying to decide what to do with the tall stumps.
“We came up with the idea of snowmen,” Brandi said. “We have one floodlight hitting the snowmen to make them brighter so people can see it.
They added scarves and hats and gave the snowmen buttons and pipes making a yard project into easy-to-do yard art.
“To make the snowmen, it took about two full days to get holes drilled and then add the accessories,” Brandi said.
She added that this will be the only year for the snowmen.
Penn State proud
Penn State graduate Bob Witt lives three hours away, but one just might be able to see the display from here with the number of lights illuminating his yard.
“I lost count several years ago at around 25,000,” Witt said. “I think it is somewhere around 30,000 to 40,000 lights.”
The Class of 2001 engineering graduate said he always loved the allure of Christmas lights and believed himself to be on the cutting edge once he learned how to synchronize the lights to music by the Penn State Blue Band. The music is audible through visitor’s car radio via an FM transmitter on his property, so it doesn’t disturb his already accommodating neighbors.
“I am always looking at new electronics or new technology lights to add each year,” he said. “I am adding a lot of color-changing lights which allow me to do a Penn State song in blue and white, and another Christmas song with green and red lights using the same string of lights.”
This year, he said a friend used a drone to record the light show to the Blue Band fight song.
Technology isn’t cheap, and Witt said he sees evidence of that once he gets his December electric bill.
“My December electric is two times any other month,” he said.
Making time for family
“I definitely feel like there’s a void in large light displays,” State College resident Eric Stoner said. “When I was a kid, we used to have fun driving around and finding the light displays.
Stoner, who does lighting for an entertainment company, said he wanted to do something to demonstrate the spirit of Christmas for his daughters, Elizabeth, 6 and Emma, 2, along with all the other kids in the neighborhood.
His wife, Karen, helped him plan the display, he said, which took about four weeks to set up. The lights are computer-controlled through a software program, he said. Each string has to be mapped to each song and transmitted over a radio at the State College house.
Traditional Christmas classics play alongside holiday fare like Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Wizards in Winter, “ “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, “ and “Let it Go, “ the song from Disney’s animated hit “Frozen.”
“I had to put the ‘Frozen’ song in for my daughter, “ he said.