You could say Christmas has sort of exploded in Rick Shatka's yard, falling down around his house at 1913 Graydon Ave. in Brainerd in a burst of more than 24,000 twinkling lights, Christmas displays and 40 motor-operated characters.
Tour buses actually stop by and let passengers out to get a better look at his annual display, which starts with a gala lighting ceremony each Thanksgiving night. Music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is piped outdoors so visitors to his display get into the Christmas spirit.
This year's display, which runs from 5 to 10:30 p.m. each night on six different circuits with separate timers, includes a new 23-foot red, white and blue driveway arch that reads, "May God Bless America Again." Shatka thought it was appropriate this season after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Shatka encourages the numerous nightly visitors to get up close and check out his many decorations. Heck, he'll even let you venture into his back yard where more decorations can be found.
but it comes alive at 5 p.m, with thousands of twinkling lights, 40 rotating characters, numerous decorations and Christmas music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir playing loudly outdoors. (Dispatch Photos by Steve Kohls)
"It's a magical time," Shatka said of the holiday season. "People stop by and you get this feeling of warmth."
When he moved to Brainerd from New Ulm in 1979, Shatka said he couldn't believe how dark the city was during the holidays. In New Ulm, many families decorated their yards for Christmas. So when he and his wife, Judy, moved from northeast Brainerd to their current home on Graydon Ave. they decided to give the neighbors a fine winter display. Over the years, a few of his neighbors have joined in, too.
It has helped that Christmas lighting is now less expensive, he said. The warmer winter weather this Christmas has given people more reason to travel around town and enjoy the lighting displays.
Their daughter, Serena, 18, wasn't as thrilled as her dad about the attention their house receives each Christmas. She was horrified, he said.
"Yeah, she used to hate it," said Shatka. "But she's kind of mellowed out because her friends like it."
Ten years ago, while working at Sherwin Williams, Shatka sold lighted Christmas decorations to downtown Brainerd businesses in an attempt to brighten the holidays for Christmas shoppers. He hung many lights himself downtown on Laurel Street, he said.
"I love people and it was another way to interact with people," Shatka said of his holiday decorations. "It's what I like to do, and as long as I'm able, I'll do it."
But Shatka doesn't just stop at Christmas. He leaves some of his Christmas lights up all year and adds to them during Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Fourth of July and Halloween. Each season has its own lights.
Shatka said his favorite part of holiday decorating is having visitors come up to him and ask to see even more decorations.
"(Christmas) is ending way too soon for me," said Shatka. "It makes it dark and gloomy for me because it's too long until February for Valentine's Day."
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