A hand-painted cutout of Santa Claus and his nine reindeer perpetually flies over thousands of multi-colored lights illuminating Billy Pine’s house at 900 S. 13th St.
A nonstop line of vehicles slows to a crawl outside the brightly lit residence as an elf waves to onlookers from the cab of a North Pole Rail Road steam engine.
In the corner of Pine’s yard, beneath a partially lit 70-foot-tall pine tree, a snowman carrying a lantern stands under a reindeer crossing indicator with two blinking red lights fashioned after a railroad crossing sign.
“I think we put up about 8,000 lights this year,” 42-year-old Pine, said. “About 1,500 of those are on the (pine) tree. But we have thousands more where those came from.”
Red, white, blue and green Christmas lights decorate nearly every vertical surface in Pine’s yard. Even a 2-foot-tall fir at the edge of his lawn received the full Christmas treatment.
“There’s not one tree or bush I don’t want lights on,” Pine said. His eyes widened with delight as he added, “I’d even put lights on the dogs’ house if I didn’t think they’d chew them up.”
For some, decorating for the holidays is a chore. For others, it’s a competition. But for the Pine family, it is a tradition stretching back three generations.
“It’s been a lifelong hobby,” Pine said, pushing back his camouflaged ball cap. “My dad’s been doing decorations my whole life. But my grandfather started it by building our Santa village in ’57.”
While some of Pine’s handcrafted decorations are no more than painted plywood cutouts, the village decorating his yard was built by his grandfather as a three-dimensional structure with built-in Christmas lights.
From the Christmas star adorning his roof to elf children playing in his yard, every one of Pine’s decorations were built by his family.
“You can’t go down to Home Depot or Lowe’s and pick these out,” Pine said. “They’re unique, and I think that makes them special — at least for me.”
A carpenter by trade, Pine said he comes up with ideas and takes them to his dad, who provides a design for the cutouts. Pine then returns to his shop and using his dad’s design, cuts out and assembles the pieces, before bringing them back to his dad for the final touches.
“My dad is pretty artistic,” he said, beaming with pride. “He free-hand paints all our decorations.”
Pine’s Christmas scene takes about two weeks to set up, and he said he starts before Thanksgiving so he can switch the lights on Thanksgiving weekend. Preferring incandescent lighting themes in lieu of newer LED lights, Pine said he spends an entire night checking bulbs and wiring before stringing up the lights.
“I get out all the lights I’m going to use that year,” he said, scratching his short black beard. “And I lay them out in my garage, checking each string for broken bulbs and wiring.”
Winter weather and storage can be harsh on Pine’s lighting, but by far, wildlife does the most damage, he said.
“Squirrels play havoc on the lights,” Pine explained. “They chew them up and birds peck at them, so the lights that go in the big tree usually have to be gone through pretty well.”
While he repairs what he can, Pine said some strings just have to be thrown out, and he winds up buying about 15 new strands each year.
He doesn’t calculate the annual cost of the lights or the time spent building the decorations, but Pine said his electricity usage skyrockets during the holidays.
“Our bill goes up by about $100-$150 each month we have the lights up,” he said.
With two young sons, Pine said he’s passing his passion for Christmas lights on to a fourth generation.
“They’re a bit young to do stuff outside, but they love getting into the boxes to see what we’ll put up this year,” he said. “It’s definitely a family tradition for us to pile into the car three or four nights a week and drive around town looking at everyone’s light displays.”
Despite the time required to set up and take down his lights and decorations, Pine said he looks forward to it each year.
“I enjoy doing it, and I get satisfaction out of the fact other people enjoy it, too,” he said. “I don’t know that my neighbors necessarily like how bright it is. But I’ll say this, in all my years of doing it — I’ve never had one complaint.”
When it comes to lighting, Pine plans to string lights all the way up his 70-foot pine tree next year.
“I think it’s going to take about 5,000 more lights,” he said, adding with a grin, “the trick is getting up there.”
But he said has less definitive plans for his decorations.
“Who knows what we’ll put up next,” Pine said.