This holiday season the biggest icicles hanging from house eaves are fueled by an electrical current.
Lighting displays -- particularly red, white and blue -- are part of celebrating the holiday season in city neighborhoods and country yards. Miles of extension cord snake, partially exposed, through grass and snow patches. Lights twinkle high atop pine trees. Lights shimmer in multicolored swags across porches. And white electric icicles hang from eaves.
With Christmas arriving in five days, it is still not too late to join the crowd. But if the light displays have awakened creative minds, the holiday light sales in six days may be the better bet. But be wary -- experienced light display creators say the process is addictive. Be prepared -- extensive outside lights will make a difference in December's electric bill.
Sharon and Jerry Brand, Pequot Lakes, moved to the area about four years ago after more than three decades in Texas and Oklahoma. Farther south they created a snowman display of tumble weeds and put lights on it. In Minnesota, they started with a thousand lights. And Sharon Brand said it grew from there.
Blue lights, even for indoor bubble lights, made a surge this year as more people decorated in a patriotic theme of red, white and blue.
Brand suggests novices begin with an idea by picking out the trees to light or the display for the house.
"We've got thousands," she said of lights. "You do it one year and you just keep adding to it."
When lighting trees, Brand said plans should include an additional string of lights each year to accommodate about a foot of tree growth. The Brands use the miniature lights, buying strings of 150. They put them up in October using plastic extension poles sold in area stores to place light strings on the tops of tall trees.
"Our trees have gotten so big you need a step ladder," she said. Brand estimated the home's extension cords could cover a mile if laid end to end. Next year the Brands plan to put underground electrical junction boxes in the yard to reduce the number of cords.
Turning a tangled mess of lights into an outdoor traffic-stopping light show can be a challenge, but experienced light decorators use a few tricks of the trade to make it easier. They have one warning -- it can be addictive and light displays are likely to grow each year. (Dispatch Photos by Renee Richardson)
The Brands include scenes, a full-size sleigh and horse, Santa and packages and a gingerbread house along with Victorian carolers. The lights, which are on from 5 to 10 p.m., go out after the New Year holiday.
"Jerry and I enjoy doing this," she said, adding next year they will start to decorate in August and finish in October. One of the benefits has come in overhearing children's conversations when they stop to see Santa, Brand said.
Bob and Melodee Hagel, Brainerd, have about 20,000 lights in their yard, an increase from 13,000 two years ago.
"It gets to be very interesting, I'll tell you," Hagel said.
Bob Hagel said the best advice he can offer is to get up early Dec. 26 and get in for the stores' half price sales on lights and figurines.
Setting up takes about three weeks of work at the Hagel home. Some items are homemade, but can be a challenge to light. And some years a search for a particular yard figure becomes a multi-year challenge. The Hagels are still searching for Mickey and Minnie Mouse to add to their yard scenes. They currently have about 50 characters, including a Pooh bear.
Hagel said he was first inspired by seeing other people's handiwork in holiday lights and began to think about the possibilities in his own yard. Now a child's playhouse doubles as Santa's workshop. The Hagels start putting the lights up in November and turn them on Thanksgiving night.
The extension cords run close to a half mile. Hagel said every time he thinks there are enough cords, he needs another one.
"It's unreal," he said and laughed. "Each year you want to add something."
Manufacturers come out with new items like the light balls the size of a beach ball that can hang from trees and multi-colored icicle lights for a variation on the white or blue versions. Hagel liked the blue icicle lights so well he went shopping Dec. 26 last year and bought 15 to 20 boxes. At this year's sale, Hagel said he is going to look for discounts so he can add the balls of light.
"Each year I do the yard differently," he said. "I do like the blue."
Big light display creators tend to be harsh when half a light string goes off the job. Hagel said he sends those defective models to a friend in Aitkin who is able to get them working again and is building his own light display as a result.
Hagel said a key to longevity in lights is removing them right away after the holiday season. He begins to take light displays down in January and has big plastic boxes and an outbuilding for storage. When the color fades on the lights as they age, Hagel spray-paints individual bulbs.
He also devised a plan to remove the lights and keep them in order. A four-foot long piece of plywood is used and has a V-shape cut into the top. Hagel tapes the light cord's top end to the plywood and winds the light string around the wood as he removes tree lights. Smaller trees have 300 lights. Hagel said he has 20 boards.
Hagel, originally from Crosby, said they got into the large-scale light displays in the last few years. He guesses that can mean a few hundred dollars in lights each year. He discovered buying lights in a bag was often easier that going through the ones that are snugly fit into plastic holders.
"The month of December is a nasty one on the power bill, but we have grandkids that love it," Hagel said. People honk when they drive by or stop and take photographs. "We know they are enjoying it and that to me is what it's all about."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.