Talk of the Town, November 2019
- Story by Lisa Monti, photos by Ellis Anderson
If you’ve ever been down the 200 block of Necaise Avenue at night between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you probably already know what this story is about – the Rihner family’s yard. Awash with lights and filled with holiday blowups and elaborate decorations, this particular Christmas tradition started 28 years ago.
Lance Rihner says he didn’t intend to create a wonderland so eye popping that it has attracted TV news crews and carolers. He was just decorating for his two children like his neighbors and friends were doing back then. Now he’s got two grandchildren.
“I got started hanging lights when we first moved here in 1991,” he said. Neighbors became friends, and the kids on the block grew up together. “They would decorate and we would decorate. It kind of took off from there.”
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Gradually, the neighbors moved away and the kids grew up, but Lance just keep buying lights and accumulating extension cords and finding new pieces to install in the yard.
“There’s something new every year,” he said. “This year there’s a new Disney display.”
Lance uses photos from the year before to see where everything goes and tweaks a few setups. If something major is out of place, he said, he’ll hear about it from regulars who remember it from years past. “Some of the older stuff like Santa on the light pole has been a staple for 25 years,” he said.
He figures he’s got close to 100 pieces of yard decorations, though he’s never actually counted. Ask how much he’s got invested in the display and Lance laughingly says, “Way too much.” He guesses he’s put several thousand dollars into the project over the 28 years. “I always say the more the merrier.”
And it’s not just the decorations themselves. It takes more than 40 extension cords and some 200 smaller ones to power up all that Christmas stuff. After blowing a couple of circuit breakers early on, Lance upgraded all the wiring in the house and put eight receptacles outside to handle all those cords. “It’s like putting a puzzle together,” he said of assembling and unwinding and erecting everything.
Depending on the weather, it takes three to four weeks to install everything, starting before Halloween. His goal is to have everything in place to light up on Thanksgiving night, and if he’s running behind, his wife Melinda and grown children help him finish up. Each night the display is turned off at 10 p.m.
The takedown is faster, about three days. “It comes down pretty quick,” he said. “Everything is boxed up and goes back in the shed.”
Sometimes, he admits, the setup gets overwhelming. “But it does put me in the holiday mood. I put on CDs to motivate me. This is the best time of the year for me. We love Christmas."
The schedule is the same for Melinda, who handles the home decorations. “Inside it looks just like the outside,” he said.
Over the years, advances in technology have brought fancy laser lights and other improvements to Christmas decorations, but Lance stays mostly with the classics. “My lights are old school. They don’t dance to music.” He does have 3-D projectors, which have to be brought in if it rains.
Early on, before the advent of energy-efficient LEDs, the Rihners’ power bill would jump up about $100 during the holidays. “But it’s all worth it when you see the kids,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
“I have been surprised with a load of carolers from churches in town who sang carols to us. That happened twice. It was pretty neat."