As the weather turns frosty and the holidays approach, one South Jeffco family faces 100 hours of labor, a $200 increase in their electric bill, and a lot of rubber-necking motorists driving by their home.
But for the Flanders family, it’s all more than worthwhile.
How much do Matthew, Linda and Rachel Flanders love Christmas?
• 25 tannenbaums worth.
• Enough to have their Woodburn home festooned inside and out with enough holiday finery to fill two rooms and a shed when they dismantle the displays.
• And enough to warm the hearts of neighbors, strangers and anyone else who gets a glimpse of their happy holiday wattage.
An outdoor wonderland
"We have seven zones, with 20 amps each," Matthew Flanders said, describing the electrical grid that powers the outdoor lighting display. Colored bulbs hang from every ledge and are tucked into every nook and cranny of the house. The lawn lights up as well, and it features an inflatable airplane with a spinning propeller set to carry Santa around the world.
The Flanderses, who have lived in the house at xxx for 20 years, don’t confine their decorating zeal to Christmas —they also get in the spirit at Thanksgiving and Easter.
But Christmas lights their fire, and their Christmas lights illuminate the immediate area and severely test their home’s electrical system.
“We blew fuses left and right," Matthew said of the early years. Linda, his wife, said family members couldn’t turn on a light in the basement without blowing a fuse.
That was all solved with an electrical upgrade, paving the way for the display to become a much-anticipated fixture in the neighborhood.
Two years ago the family didn't put up a display because Matthew was focused instead on earning a master's degree.
"The neighbors thought we were filing for divorce since the lights weren't up," Linda said.
A big time commitment
Matthew said the outdoor display alone takes about 60 hours to install.
"She's the designer," he said, pointing to his wife. "I'm kind of the laborer."
The couple were overwhelmed the first few times they attempted the elaborate display, but years of experience have produced a multi-tasking strategy worthy of busy St. Nick.
"We've been doing it enough together," Matthew said. "We know what needs to be done."
Linda said the current display lacks a few items — including reindeer pulling Santa across the lawn — that need repairs and are sitting this year out.
The inside story
The inside of the Flanders home features decorations in nearly every room, an effort that takes another 40 hours to put together and which includes lights, ornaments and trees — a lot of trees.
"There's stuff in every room but the study," Linda said. "I have eight major trees, and 17 minor trees."
Major trees are those more than 3 feet tall.
The main tree is in the front room and is joined by a series of tiny Christmas villages on a chest of drawers. The archway to the dining room is lined with a garland festooned with ornaments. A trip to the basement reveals two decorated trees: one with a Disney theme and the other adorned in brilliant blue lights.
The couple's master bedroom sports a smaller tree with a Star Wars/Star Trek theme. Rachel, the couple's 13-year-old daughter, has her own tree in her bedroom.
The couple estimate they've spent more than $10,000 on decorations in the last 15 to 20 years. Some years they don't buy any new decorations, but in others they clean out the store shelves.
Linda said she won't display just anything.
"I want unique stuff," she said, adding that when the family travels, she stops at every Christmas store she can find. Matthew joked that he and his daughter try to distract Linda when they pass some stores, hoping she won't make them stop. Linda said her mother was into Christmas decorations as well but didn't have nearly as many as the Flanderses do now.
All those decorations have to be stored somewhere.
"I have very little space," Linda said. "I'm very good at it." The family packs the paraphernalia into a room in the basement, in a shed outside and in the attic. Storing the glittery googaws takes about 20 hours and an effort worthy of a squirrel stuck in a Planter’s plant.
Meanwhile, the display costs the family an extra $200 per month in electricity charges, Matthew said. But Linda quickly added that all the lights actually help heat their home, so the furnace doesn’t run as much.
"People celebrate the holidays in different ways," Matthew said. "We celebrate by decorating."
And Rachel Flanders has grown up with the decorations.
"I went from being smaller than the Santa, and now I can rest my arm on him," Rachel said.
The eternal question
One final question hovers in the festive and frosty air outside the Flanders home. Why so much work for a fleeting season?
"We do put a lot of work into it," Matthew said. "But we enjoy doing it. It's not a competition with our neighbors. This is how we celebrate the holidays."
Linda especially enjoys the neighbors’ reactions, particularly those of neighborhood kids.
"It really is neat," she said. "It's a whole new generation of oohs and aahs."