Dave Ceasar’s Christmas lights obsessions started slowly, with a larger-than-life inflatable snowman and a few strings of lights in the trees outside his Litchfield home.
“We had that snowman … and some lights in the trees, I can see the extension cords,” Ceasar said recently as he flipped through 10-year-old photographs on his phone that capture that first light display. “And we thought we were so cool.”
Those who drive by — or more likely, drive to and linger at — Dave and Shelly Ceasar’s house at 527 S. Marshall Ave. might not recognize it from the small display in 2009.
“It started getting crazy around 2013,” Dave explained with a shrug.
Crazy, as in more than 30,000 lights that dance to synchronized music, filling the neighborhood with Christmas lights and cheer — and luring carloads of curious onlookers who venture out to see the show.
“We didn’t know we were going to be the Griswolds,” Shelly said, jokingly invoking the name of everyone’s favorite over-decorator, Clark Griswold, from the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
Dave Ceasar agreed that he never considered his lights display growing to such an extent. It just sort of happened over the past decade.
“I always saw things like this and thought, ‘Oh, that would be cool.’ But I didn’t see us doing it,” Dave said. “But now I see us doing it.”
The Ceasars' home is one of 10 homes competing in the Litchfield Visitors Bureau's Light Up Litchfield promotion. The homes are competing for $2,000 in prize money, but just as importantly, they are bringing visitors to town to see the lights and maybe do some shopping or dining, at least that's the goal of Light Up Litchfield, according to Litchfield Chamber of Commerce executive director Judy Hulterstrum.
The Ceasars' display has grown every year since that first effort, usually by several items. This year, Dave bought strips of LED lights with which to outline their home. Engaging his do-it-yourself spirit, he usually sees something in a YouTube video or a photograph, or reads about something in a blog, and decides to build something similar.
He admits the constant additions have become a bit of a challenge through the years. Yes, constructing them and correctly linking them to the rest of the display can be trying, but perhaps there’s something even more challenging.
“It fills my shed,” Ceasar said of all the cords, switches, controllers, hand-made light displays, and so on. “I mean, my shed — that used to be for, like, lawn toys? — no, it’s all Christmas now.
“I told my wife last year, ‘We’ve gotta get a bigger shed.’ She said, ‘We’re not getting another shed or a bigger shed.’ But I will end up winning that battle. I already know how I’m going to win it, too. She’s not going to be able to park in the garage.”
Though she kiddingly reprimands her husband about the display taking over their lives, to say nothing of their storage space, Shelly admits that she’s contributed to the expansion.
There’s a 4-foot by 4-foot lighted Christmas present just outside their front door that she suggested would be a nice addition after seeing something like it on Pinterest. Years before that, she also pushed to make Christmas tree balls out of chicken wire, which now decorate one of the trees on the south side of their home.
“Why fight it?” she said. “You gotta join in.”
The decorating has become a kind of family project, the couple said, also involving their sons, Zachary, 20, and Maxwell, 17.
Maxwell especially enjoys stringing lights and other decorations in the trees that line the Ceasars’ property, because — his mother said — it’s the perfect excuse to climb trees.
But his father sees a problem ahead based on that.
“I think when Maxwell graduates, or is done climbing trees, I’m going to have to get some kind of a bucket truck,” Dave said. “I’m not climbing trees. So where are we going to store that (bucket truck)?”
Ceasars added music last year, with lights synchronized to the song, and broadcast it on a low-frequency band so cars could enjoy the show. The show has expanded to four songs this year.
And it has expanded geographically, as well, since the Ceasars “recruited” neighbors to join them in the lighting extravaganza.
Three other neighbors agreed to be linked to Dave’s wireless system, so that lights at all four homes are synchronized. Among the special attractions is a “dueling” guitar and banjo song — with lighted guitar in Ceasars’ yard and banjo in neighbor Mitch Magnuson’s yard.
Though the Ceasars have lived in the neighborhood for years, they admitted to not knowing their neighbors very well.
“I mean, I think we’re good neighbors, we say ‘hi,’ but we don’t really know them very well,” Dave said. “So my goal was, hey, let’s get them involved, get to know our neighbors a little bit. It’s neat that all of our neighbors are involved with it. Interest is spreading.”
Though they’ve seen their display steadily grow throughout the past decade, the Ceasars seem especially pleased that Light Up Litchfield will encourage other city residents to take the decorating plunge.
In their view, it’s worth it.
“We would get messages from people about how excited their kids are when they go home, because they want to go hear the song, or see Frosty,” Shelly said of their display. “We thought, ‘Oh, this really brings people some joy, so why not?’”