Anyone who has ever set up and maintained a large Christmas light display will probably agree with me. There are two requirements, you have to love Christmas and you have to be a little bit crazy. OK, maybe you have to be a completely insane. 

I have put up a Christmas light display each year for more than 40 years. I have hung lights on nice warm days, and on freezing cold days. I have also put up lights and in the rain and the snow. 

Getting everything into place and connected to power is only a small part of the process. When the display was taken down last year, every single bulb was working perfectly. But it never fails. There are always a few strings that won’t light when it is set back up the next year. I have never figured out how those bulbs manage to burn out while sitting undisturbed in the attic for 11 months.

After several hours of testing and replacing bulbs, we finally get everything working and our display is ready to shine. But the lights are only one of the enemies we have to fight. We have to deal with the wind, a constant and very powerful opponent. 

No matter how I try to anchor things down, the Kansas wind manages to cause trouble. Each night, I have to go out and re-aim all of the floodlights that have been blown off course. The figurines of our nativity, the carolers, and other parts of our display are also constantly being rearranged or torn loose by the annoying wind. 

Large Christmas displays require daily maintenance to keep them operating and looking nice. I check my display out as soon as it comes on each night. I don’t like having things out of place and I won’t tolerate burned out bulbs. If something is not working, I have to fix it.

Recently I had several strings of lights that were giving me problems. They were located high up on the roof, so I had to climb up in the dark to take them down. 

After several hours of troubleshooting, everything was finally in operational order. I reinstalled the lights back on the roof and powered everything back up. I was pleased to see that the section I had repaired was now working fine.  I was also dismayed to see that a different section had stopped working. Back up the ladder I went. I spent another two hours testing bulbs to resolve the problem. 

One thing has always puzzled me. Every package of bulbs that I have ever purchased proclaims that if one bulb fails, the rest will stay lit. I’ve never found that to be the case. When one bulb fails, half of the string goes out.

On a large display, the repair work never seems to end. I came home from work one evening to find that most of the lights on one of our reindeer had failed. Lighted deer are difficult to troubleshoot. The light strings go up one side, down another and wind around all over the deer’s body. Often times it is easier to just replace all of the light strings than try to find the one defective bulb.

Each year I tell myself that there will be no more additions and the display is as large as it is going to get. But I can’t seem to help myself. I always find something new or different that I just have to have. 

For example, I recently saw a video showing how to make beautiful snowflakes out of plastic hangers. No doubt about it, I will be making some of those for next year. 

Putting everything up — keeping it running  — and taking it down again is a lot of work. But at our house, it would not seem like Christmas without those decorations. 

I don’t know how many more years I will be physically able to put up this display. It seems to be a bit more difficult each year and it takes a little longer to complete. 

Looking down the road, there may come a time where I will be standing out in the front yard with a walker, directing my son as he hangs the lights. I know that one day I will have to scale down our display. But one thing I do know, one way or another, there will be lights on my house at Christmas.


CourierTraveler reporter John Shelman can be contacted at (620) 442-4200 or

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