Dave and Dr. Pam Brett say their Christmas light display is a little “quieter” this year.

Of course, when it comes to holiday lights, the terminology is all relative.

For the Bretts, a quiet year still means between 70,000 and 80,000 lights illuminating their house, bushes, trees and property at the corner of West Pleasure Drive and Lakeview Drive, on the southwest corner of Litchfield Golf Course.

That’s down from a peak of, Dave Brett estimates, some 350,000 lights — he’s not certain because, well, who has time to count the lights when there are that many to put up?

No matter the number, however, the Bretts’ display has lit up the area and delighted thousands of Christmas light seekers for nearly two decades, a kind of show of appreciation for the community they have called home since 2003.

“It’s for the community,” Dave Brett said. “I do it for the kids in the community. And for us.

“It’s a lot of work; there are times when I go, ‘I really don’t want to be doing this,’” he admitted. “But then I’m out there doing it anyway. And once I get into it, it gets better, and we work together on the design and things like that, and it’s fun.”

The display almost didn’t happen last year, when he contracted COVID-19. He was sick from early October through mid-November, a time he normally would begin planning and setting up the lights. As he began to feel better, Dave Brett sought help from others to help get at least some lights up.

“Last year was pretty limited,” Pam Brett said. “And we heard about the fact that people didn’t like that. So, this year we scaled up from last year, but certainly nowhere near what we’ve done in the past.”

The Bretts moved to Litchfield in 2003, when Pam took her first job as a physician at the Affiliated Community Medical Center clinic — now Meeker Memorial Clinic. It was her first job after completing medical school, a career move she made a little later in life than most, after spending several years as a medical researcher.

Dave Brett remembers that it was somewhere in the middle of his wife’s second year of residency at the University of Minnesota in Waseca that they were driving around central Minnesota exploring communities they thought might be good to begin her practice.

“So, we’d been to Benson and Willmar and we were driving home and I missed the turn for Highway 12, and we kept coming down 22,” he said, recalling their first visit to Litchfield. “Oh look, there’s a hospital. Oh look, there’s two clinics, cool!”

Taking note of the professional attractions of the city, they continued south on Sibley Avenue, where they saw a sign for the golf course and decided to check it out as well.

“We drove past and saw this … I said, that second hole looks really difficult with all that water,” Dave Brett continued. “And then we saw this house, and I said, ‘One of these days, I want a house like that on the golf course.’ And we just turned around and drove off and went home.”

Several weeks later, Pam received an email from Dr. David Ross at what was then the ACMC clinic in Litchfield, encouraging medical school students nearing graduation to consider practicing in Litchfield. Remembering their earlier drive through town, they decided to check out the opportunity.

Well, that’s the short version, Pam Brett interjected as her husband finished his story.

“But the criteria that you gave me for practice was the town needed to have a golf course, a lake or mountain, and it needed to have some sort of shopping — so it needed a grocery store and a Walmart or a hardware store, things like that, right?” she said with a smile.

“I didn’t want to have to go everywhere out of town for what I needed,” Dave Brett said.

“Right?” Pam Brett. “So guess what … guess what was here — Pamida, Family Fare (then Econofoods), two lumber stores, which he thought was seventh heaven, a golf course, lake.”

It was the perfect fit, they agreed, and when they returned to Litchfield in March to sign a contract with the clinic, they found that house on the golf course that had inspired Dave’s wish, was on the market.

“We looked at several others, but we decided on this one,” he said. “And the rest is history.”

They’ve added about 800 square feet onto the house since they bought it, including porch additions and extending the dining room, in addition to adding a media room and a sun room. Oh, and part of those expansion plans included adding 20 electrical circuits to accommodate their Christmas lights display.

“We’ve made Litchfield our home,” said Dave, a Dallas, Texas, native, who met his wife, a Rochester, New York, native, when they both were attending Bethany Nazarene College, now known as Southern Nazarene University, in Bethany, Oklahoma. Pam Brett pursued her medical training at Des Moines University. The couple moved to Mankato when she served her medical residency through the University of Minnesota’s Waseca campus.

Dave Brett was an accountant prior to their move to Litchfield, but they decided he would “retire” after the move. He says he’s been a house husband for 18 years, in addition to driving for Hicks Bus Line in Litchfield the past eight years. A gifted handyman, he has overseen the household improvements over the years, as well as being the installer of the Bretts’ Christmas lights — in consultation with his wife.

“Pam and I both like Christmas lights,” he said. “We’ve always done Christmas lights, no matter where we’ve lived. Even on our apartment, we did the balcony when we were in med school. But we got here, and we said, ‘We’ve got all this yard to do something with.’”

“But it started small,” Pam Brett explained, with the couple just hanging lights on the house and some of the bushes and trees surrounding the house.

As they saw the popularity of Christmas lights displays grow, and new lighting options arose, they began to add to their own collection.

“I mean, the other thing that was always in our favor is the after-Christmas sales were always really, really good,” Pam Brett said. “You know, it was easy to pick up a lot of lights or anything. And it just slowly kind of got a little bigger, and a little bigger, and a little bigger.”

Always at the forefront of their display, however, was the manger scene, positioned in front of the house. The display, which now features 27 different pieces, was built by Dave over a five-year period.

“It’s always been in the front yard, and it’s always been the mainstay of our Christmas stuff,” he said. “And the cross up front, we have a special holder for that. That’s just about the first thing to go up.”

The Bretts’ display is a little different every year, and includes some new features most years, too.

They have few “rules” for their display, though they’ve favored lights that don’t blink and that are limited to the Christmas colors of red, green and white. They made an exception to the lights that move when they were on vacation a few years ago in Florida and first saw waterfall lights, an effect they liked, and added some to a tree on the east side of their property.

They have had lighted candy canes lining their driveway and sidewalk for years, but this year they moved them to the back of the house, “for something different,” Dave said. Thirteen deer roam their yard traditionally. But each year there’s a process to keep some of the lights going.

“We always have our deer out front, and most of them are getting to the point where they’re going to have to be retired,” he said. “I can’t keep the lights burning. I have become very good at fixing light strands and bulbs but there are times you get to the point where all of the lights blow out ... you just can’t do anything.”

Though this year’s effort has been scaled back somewhat, the Bretts do not see any end to their annual Christmas light extravaganza. It might evolve, but it brings too much enjoyment — both for them and the carloads of families who drive past each night — to consider ending their tradition.

“We’re getting older, and it’s getting a little harder,” Pam Brett said. “(Dave” used to do this all by himself, and now we have a group of guys and gals who come over periodically during the month of November and help him put stuff up.”

It used to take about 150 hours to put up all of the lights by himself, Dave said. When the Litchfield Chamber of Commerce had its light decorating contest three years ago, that time grew a little more. That’s when the Bretts decided to add an area at the west side of their property to remember and honor those battling various types of cancer. Dave created large ribbons from wood for five different types of cancer – colon, leukemia, lung, ovarian and breast.

This year, they added a sign honoring COVID victims and their families. The sign was created by neighbor Peter Brynildson and given to the Bretts for their display. Behind the sign are three small trees, decorated with about 900 lights — signifying those who have died from COVID in Meeker and surrounding counties.

As the Bretts’ display has grown through the years, so has their electric bill during December and early January. Dave Brett recalled an increase of $600 one year.

“But it’s worth it,” he said.

“And again, this time of year ... it’s really is dark winter,” Pam Brett added. “And you know, we turn the lights on, and here we have our own little environment of light for a couple hours longer every night. You know, it’s so fun.”