The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

December 24, 2013

Christmas decorations light up night in Clinton

By Amy Kent
Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — Christmas is a time of traditions and one of the most common traditions is the hanging of decorative lights on the outside of a house or business.

For some local residents, hanging lights is the best way to spread Christmas cheer and they are invoking the spirit of Clark Griswold from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to show off their decorating pride.

“If I drove through a town and there wasn’t one single Christmas light I wouldn’t feel like it was Christmas,” local resident and holiday decorating enthusiast Kevin Colschen said. “When you drive and see lots of lights it makes you feel the Christmas spirit. If everyone’s decorating then everyone’s got it on their mind that it’s Christmas time.”

Colschen began decorating his home on North Fourth Street shortly after purchasing it a few years ago and says that each year he does it, he gets more and more excited for the following year.

“The first year I went and bought five strands of lights, and a couple strands to put on the roof,” Colschen said. “I was kind of short, so I went and bought some more and would see something else I liked and it just kind of grew from there. Now, I have about 18,000 individual lights on my house.”

He is not the only local Christmas light enthusiast who is stepping up the decorating this year.

Mike Kremer and several of his neighbors in the 1000 block of North 13th Street in Clinton decided about 5 years ago they wanted to do something a little different for Christmas decorating, and the Neighborhood Noel was born.

“My wife and I were just sitting around with some of the neighbors one night, talking about how Christmas lights used to be before the energy crisis in the 1970s,” Kremer said. “So we came up with the idea of putting up these rope lights and from there other neighbors just started going along with it. Now it’s growing and we’re trying to encourage some of the other connecting neighborhoods to start.”  

He says that as the tradition continues through the years, more and more of the neighbors who didn’t choose to participate in the beginning are enjoying the attention and getting in on the experience.

“For many years there was one guy who wasn’t to excited about the idea, but now he has even started putting stuff out,” Kremer said. “Now that we’re doing it and more and more people are getting into it we don’t have any negative feelings on it anymore.”

The only challenges the Colschen, folks of Neighborhood Noel and all others who decorate for Christmas had this year were the limited time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and major temperature declines in that period.

According to Randy Pennock, lawn and garden manager at Paul’s Discount Store, that shortened time frame affected more than just Kremer and his neighbors.

“This year after Thanksgiving we were already in the first part of December, so that late Thanksgiving kind of brings our Christmas light sales down just slightly,” Pennock said. “It’s also partly because of the weather; obviously, the weather plays a big part of that.”

Despite the drop in temperature and the shortened time frame, people are still braving the cold and getting out to set up their Christmas displays and Pennock said the old standbys are still holding strong.

“LED lights are still going strong. People are still slowly going to those,” Pennock said. “But, still so many people do use the mini lights outside. I’d say the biggest trend, different this year, are the solid colored lights. Those have been a big hit.”

The light-emitting diode (LED) lights have been consistently growing in popularity over the years and Justin Foss, spokesman for Alliant Energy, says it’s because of their energy efficiency and safety.

“If you take 10 of those mini incandescent light strands off and put on 10 LED mini lights strands and you run them for five hours a day for the holiday season you’re averaging about $4 in monthly savings,” Foss said. “It adds up over time, but you’re not going to see a huge jump unless you’re Clark Griswold.”

LED lights also are safer to keep on for longer periods of time, said Foss, because they only give off light and very little heat.

“A traditional string of mini Christmas lights are about 40 watts per string. That same string in LEDs is down to about four or five watts,” Foss said. “One of the things that a lot of people don’t realize is in those old incandescent lights, about 80 or 90 percent of that creates heat and the other 10 percent creates light. LEDs are not creating that heat, they’re just creating light.”

Whether people choose solid white lights, incandescent, multi colored or LED bulbs to decorate their homes, one thing always holds true — the tradition of hanging Christmas lights will continue for many, many years.

“It’s an addiction,” Colschen said.