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Christmas Cheer

Posted December 12, 2012 in Norwalk

Tom Riggs decorates the 20-foot-tall Black Hills spruce tree in his front yard with blue lights. Riggs has been decorating the tree every year since it was about 5 or 6 feet tall, though he says it’s getting more challenging as the tree grows taller.

They’re not exactly Clark Griswold, but even Norwalk has its own residents who love to get into the Christmas spirit.

It ranges from the house filled with thousands of colored lights on Wakonda Avenue to the city’s tree lighting ceremony that takes place each year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Tom Riggs spent a Sunday afternoon teetering on a 13-foot step ladder while he added blue LED lights to a large Black Hills Spruce tree located in his front yard.

Riggs has been decorating outside his and his wife Bettie’s home since they moved into the Lakewood subdivision 35 years ago.

“I think it’s gotten a little easier with some of the lights,” he says. “Some of the lights are now brighter so you don’t have to put up as many, and it takes less electricity.”

Riggs says at one point the couple had to use three different circuits to support all their outdoor lights. Now they can use two with the efficiency of LED lights.

The Riggses planted the spruce tree when they moved in and waited until it was about 6 feet tall before they started decorating it. Now it stands about 20 feet and has become more challenging to decorate.

“You can see now I have trouble getting to the top,” he says as he stretches atop his step ladder with a pole he handcrafted to get the lights to the top of the tree.

The tree gets taller every year, but Riggs says he’ll keep decorating it even though it has become more of a challenge.

Riggs says he always uses blue lights on the tree.

“They show up really well when it’s dark,” he says.

In addition to the tree lights, Riggs adds lights to the roofline of the house, puts a lighted garland on the porch rail and sticks lighted presents under the spruce tree. He’ll also add nine large, lit balls onto the tree and 20 arched, white lights along the sides of the driveway.

In all, Riggs estimates it takes him about six hours to complete the outdoor decorations. He aims to always start around Thanksgiving when the weather is still warm.

“But sometimes I’ve missed the warm part, and it’s gotten pretty cold when I’ve done it,” he says.

Riggs says decorating is something he enjoys doing. One time he says he even heard a coyote howl from the other side of the lake while he was decorating.

Riggs says the couple originally started to decorate outdoors for Christmas because of their children.

“Everybody (in Lakewood) started doing some, so it was kind of nice,” he recalls. “If everybody did a little bit, then it made the whole area look really nice.”

He says the tradition has mostly continued to this day, with nearly everyone in his area of Lakewood doing some sort of outdoor decorating.

Inside the Riggs’ home is Bettie’s territory. Tom helps her get the decorations out, but Bettie is in charge of displaying them.

“She has an idea of where she wants things to go,” he says.

The couple’s spare bedroom is referred to as the “Christmas room.” It houses all their Christmas decorations during the off season including lots of Santas and Christmas statues.

“I think all three floors (of the house) have decorations all over, and we seem to get more every year,” Tom says. The couple puts up a Christmas tree on their main level and one in the basement. The basement fireplace and mantel also get decorated.

Everything is taken down — indoors and outdoors — by New Year’s Day.

The Riggses’ neighbor Mike Wetzel also took advantage of the mild weather to put up his Christmas decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Mike Wetzel with his Christmas decoration display. Wetzel added the blow-up Santa in the bathtub to his display this year. He says Christmas brings out the inner child in everyone.

Wetzel says he’s been decorating for eight winters.

“I enjoy the holiday spirit,” he says. “The kids (both his, ages 12 and 17, and others in the neighborhood) like it, too.”

This year Wetzel added a large blow-up Santa in a bathtub to his lawn decorations. He says his kids thought it was kind of silly, but he liked it. Wetzel says Christmas is all about letting your inner child come out and having fun.

In addition to the bathtub Santa, Wetzel put up several spiral trees with blue lights, icicle lights on the roofline, changed the garage lights to red and green, and says he’ll add a lamp post of a large candle to the front step before Christmas arrives.

On Sunset Drive, city officials and business representatives from the Chamber of Commerce have added their own bit of holiday cheer.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving was the city’s second annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony with a performance by the Norwalk High School music department.

Mayor Doug Pierce came up with the idea last year to do something to mark the beginning of the holiday season.

Deb Mineart, director of the Chamber of Commerce, says the group decided to expand the event this year with an appearance by Santa Claus on a city fire truck and crafts for children. Between 75 and 100 people attended this year’s event.

The annual event will continue to be held the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

“Who knows what we’ll do next year,” Mineart says.

Janet Garrison’s decorating has expanded and changed since she first moved into her Norwalk house in 1974.

“I think we have decorated every year,” she recalls. “Sometimes less, sometimes more.”

Initially, the decorations started out as more “frivolous,” as she describes them. Her children were younger, and the decorating was done to appease them.

“For years we had those plastic molded things — gingerbread and Santas and snowmen,” she recalls. “At one time I think I had 18.”

Now that her children are grown and help with the decorating, Garrison has moved onto lit Christmas trees, which were made by her brother-in-law and her grandson in his shop class. She changes the color of the lights occasionally, but prefers to stick with the trees and some white light mechanical reindeer.

“It’s probably always going to be this now,” she says of the decorating.

Garrison also has multi-colored lit candles in the window. She had a new porch built onto her house this year and decided to add lights and garland to it.

“I thought that could be lit up, and it would be nice,” she says.

Garrison and her children try to always have the decorating done before Thanksgiving. The family travels to northern Iowa to celebrate the holiday and likes to return home to a lit house.

Galen Breeser and his son Hayes stand next to their Christmas display outside of their Norwalk house.

“The timers are set, so when we come home, the lights are already on,” she says.

Garrison puts up a Christmas tree and has a few other decorative Christmas items inside but focuses most of her attention on the outdoors.

“I really like the glow of Christmas lights outside,” she says.

Garrison says she enjoys looking at others’ Christmas lights, as well, and hopes people get as much enjoyment out of hers.

“I think Norwalk is real happy with them,” she says. “I wish more people would take the time to do it, but it’s not everybody’s thing.”

Galen Breeser and his son Hayes spent Thanksgiving weekend decorating the family’s house for Christmas.

This year’s decorations included lights on pine trees; a blow-up snowman that reads “Happy Holidays;” icicle lights along the roofline; colored lights on the Iowa Hawkeye’s windmill in the front yard and the front bushes; and almost a dozen pre-lit figures that include Santa, candy canes, Rudolf the reindeer, an angel, a sled, a candle and the word “Joy.”

Merry Christmas from all of us at Norwalk Living magazine.

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