When Tom Evers gets ready for Christmas, he decks a bit more than the halls. He decks the roof and the yard and the shrubs and the fence, and anything else on which he can hang a string of lights or prop a plastic Santa. He usually strings 22,000 lights, but says he's scaled back this year's because of the cost.
"Usually you can see it from K-mart. My wife sat down and figured if we put up the display we did last year it would have cost us over five hundred bucks. That's beyond what I can do."
Even at half the wattage, Evers' house on 6623 N. Post is a dazzling display. Icicle lights hang from the eaves; 3,000 colored lights are strung in one large tree in the front yard. Off to one side is a Nativity scene complete with radiant plastic figures of the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, three wise men, a sheep, an ox and an angel, all glowing under a shining 60-watt star. They are joined on the lawn by a host of luminous Yuletide characters, including a five-foot Santa and a three-foot Mrs. Claus. There's a Snoopy, seven snowmen, Winnie the Pooh, and a group of singing choirboys with four tin soldiers that seem to be on guard. On the roof Santa and his sleigh are suspended in mid-takeoff behind nine reindeer as a small grouping of penguins gape beneath a sign reading "The North Pole."
Evers says he usually starts putting up his display the first week of November, and it takes about a month to complete. "I dug a basement underneath the house to store it in," he says. "You could park a pickup and a car in the area we store our stuff in. I've got 16 Rubbermaid tubs just for the lights. Now is that stupidity?"
Evers has been putting on his displays for 20 years and says when he first started he had trouble keeping them in his yard. "People try to steal the plastic figures every year. When my boys were little, I bought a couple of figures, one for each of them. They were stolen the first year we put them up. So I figured out a way to fasten them down using 150 feet of 3/8-inch cable so they couldn't be stolen so easily."
That doesn't mean the little grinches still don't try. One night a couple years ago as he was coming home from work, Evers saw his five-foot Santa 150 feet down the street on the end of the cable. "He was just sitting in the middle of the street," he says. So I picked him up, drug him back home and shortened up his leash a bit."
Meanwhile, Pam and Mark Ellis have an equally impressive display at their home at 8918 N. Farmdale. Pam seems almost embarrassed when asked about all of the lights on her house. "Yeah, we have a few lights," she laughs. "They're so bright it's like the sun is shining out there." Ellis says they decorate for all the big holidays and the lights are like a beacon in the night. "We go straight from Halloween to Christmas. We had over 800 trick-or-treaters this year. My arm was sore from giving out candy. I'm serious: for like a week I couldn't use my arm."
Storage space was also an issue, says Ellis -- so much so they built an extension to the back of the house just for outside decorations. "Yeah, it's a sickness. When you have to add on to your house for decorations, there's a problem." Like Evers, the Ellises have also had people tamper with their display, which they half-expected. But they never could have expected what somebody did to their display a couple years ago. One night, while everyone was asleep, somebody (bitter elves?) took the entire display, which includes about thirty plastic figures and about 10,000 lights. The next morning, Pam opened the front door and, as she puts it, "The entire yard was gone." But it was when she looked across the street when the real mind-blower came. Their entire display was set up, across the street in their neighbor's yard. No one heard a thing. It was the perfect crime. "They moved everything," says Ellis, still in disbelief. "They undid every extension cord, took it across the street. And not only did they move it, they set the displays up! Our little toy soldiers were going down their walkway and everything. I couldn't believe it. They even ripped the stuff off the roof." Ellis said the whole event really dampened her Christmas spirit. "I was so depressed about the whole thing. It took me two weeks until I could say 'okay, let's go get a tree and stuff.'" The perpetrator was never discovered.
Richmond, Virginia is known for its Christmas lights and every year they hold a contest. Judges drive around rating the houses in categories like Overall Wattage, Motion, Sound Effects, Bad Acid Flashback, and the all-important "Holy Shit!" Factor. Based on this category alone, possibly the most impressive display in Spokane belongs to Al Materi at 912 W. Frederick. The entire yard is packed. The Christmas figures peacefully coexist with the cast of summer characters : a plastic pig casts a come-hither stare towards a glowing Mrs. Claus. A large plywood cow grazing in last year's garden doesn't seem to mind the family of mechanized deer framed in white lights who continuously raise their heads as if they see a car coming. Windmills, flamingos, pelicans, Tigger, Snoopy, nutcrackers, snowmen, choo-choo trains, candy canes, lollipops, Mickey, Minnie and singing Dickens-people -- they're all here. This is the fifth year for Materi, whose enthusiasm for decorating his North Side home knows no bounds. He guesses he has at least 20,000 lights and over 100 figures. "I'm just about maxed out on power. I probably have 50 other displays that I could put up, but I just don't have the power." Materi says his pride and joy is the manger scene that he built from "an old barn out in Airway Heights" and notes that the display is a work in progress.
On this day he's tinkering with a couple new pieces. One is a large Santa and reindeer on the roof; the other is a lighted sign that stands about eight feet tall. It reads "Happy Birthday, Jesus."
"I got that shipped out from North Dakota," he says. "They have a plant back there where they make, like, these Santa Clauses and this sled."
Materi gives out candy canes and welcomes visitors as they come up to his house. One woman, who seems particularly mesmerized by the lights, says repeatedly, "It's gorgeous. Oh my god. It's gooorgeous! Oh my god. It's gooorgeous!" Another woman has her small daughter in tow. "Thank you very much for doing this," she says to Materi as she leaves. Materi says this is why he does it. "I do it for the kids mainly. I live by myself, so Grandpa's gotta have fun, too."
Materi, Ellis and Evers all agree that whatever the cost, it's worth it to know that draping your home in thousands of lights truly does brighten people's lives. "People knock on our door and thank us," says Tom Evers. "That's what makes it worthwhile."
See a few of the displays mentioned here and many others
in the Christmas Light Tour, offered by Inland Empire Events
and Tours. Dates are Dec. 14-15, Dec. 17-18, Dec. 21-24
and Dec. 26 from 6-8:30 pm. Cost: $10. Call: 747-1335.