One of my wife Kendall’s favorite Christmas movies is the 1989 “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” and it isn’t uncommon for people to call me Clark after Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold character.
I’ve had more than one person quote Cousin Eddie Johson and say to me, “Real nice, Clark.”
As of Thanksgiving morning, I had 4,447 Christmas lights up outside or visible in my windows, though more may go up into a couple of trees so I can surpass the 5,000-mark.
I love Christmas lights, and I owe that passion to my grandfather, Roland Vogts.
When he and my grandmother, Maxine Vogts, lived north of Canton, the entire property glowed with Christmas lights.
Estimates from my aunts and uncles suggest he had anywhere between 20,000 and 25,000 lights up in a given year.
I’ve got some catching up to do, but it isn’t a competition for me and my family. It is about the joy the lights bring to others.
Every time I see a car slowly roll by, it brings a smile to my face because I know people are taking in the display we have assembled.
I’m partial to retro or old-school lights. Specifically, I love ceramic C9 bulbs, and we have 1,650 of those up.
Classic blow molds, or those plastic characters, are also a favorite. We have 23 of those in our yard. Combined, those have 32 light bulbs.
To honor Grandpa Roland, we have a wreath, star, angel and bow he made that are illuminated as well.
Every year we try to add a little bit more. Besides this year’s addition of lights on our fence, we also have a 17-foot-tall “tree” that is on our flag pole. It has 440 lights with a star on top. These lights have nine different settings that allow us to add some movement to the display.
This year was particularly special because both of our children, Presley and Kolten, were old enough to be involved in putting up the lights, along with my father, Steve Vogts, who helps more than he could possibly realize.
Kolten’s “help” ranged from pulling down lights and tripping over extension cords to helping carry my stakes and mallet from location to location since I use camping tent stakes and an obscene number of zip ties to hold many of the blow molds in place.
Presley helped by working to untangle extension cords and picking up trash out of the yard, such as the boxes some of the lights came in or the ends of the zip ties Kendall had clipped off after things were attached. She always knows to put the cardboard in the blue, recycling container.
Though Kendall and I flirt with having “Christmas lights” listed on our divorce paperwork every time we try to wrap our pillars in garland and lights, we always get it done and prove to ourselves we are a pretty good team when we calm down and communicate a bit more clearly.
That too reminds me of Grandpa Roland and Grandma Maxine. I’ve been told stories of how Grandpa Roland would have Christmas lights strung throughout the living room as he worked to fix any strand that didn’t function properly. As the stories go, Grandma Maxine hated this, but at the end of the day, everything looked amazing and any simmering frustration apparently fizzled out.
Of course, that is also where I diverge from Grandpa Roland. I don’t spend a lot of time fixing strands. If they don’t work, they go in the trash. I’m not handy enough to do electrical repairs.
Luckily, the lights I buy will still work even if a bulb burns out, which buys me time to try to replace one bulb, while Grandpa Roland’s lights are undoubtedly an older style that made an entire strand go dark if one light had an issue.
I’ve often wondered what Grandpa and Grandma Vogts’ electric bill looked like during the Christmas season with all those lights. Luckily for me, nearly all of my lights, except for the blow molds, are LEDs, so they sip electricity.
Even if they did pull a bit more juice, it would be worth it, though. Even if people didn’t drive by and look at what we’ve created, it is satisfying enough to have my children look at the lights and say, “Wow!”
I hope our lights create memories for them and inspire light displays of their own once they have grown and started their own families.
As it is for Kendall and me, our lights don’t go up to bring attention to ourselves. The goal is to provide others with a bright spot in their days. Hopefully viewing our lights fits into their own family traditions of driving around and looking at Christmas lights.
And, hopefully, I will be able to provide a light show synced to music in the future. It’s on my to-do list. I just need to find the time and pennies to pull it off.
Todd Vogts is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.