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Joliet Herald News, December 4th, 2009

Making spiritsbright

The twinkling lights of the holidays keep the season glowing

December 4, 2009

By KAREN SORENSEN For Sun-Times Media

Three years after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1879, one of his associates was using them to decorate a Christmas tree in his home.

He thought the idea would catch on, but that didn't happen until President Grover Cleveland threw the switch on the first electrically lit White House Christmas tree in 1895, according to But even then it was a rich man's hobby -- the cost of lighting up a single tree was about $300, the equivalent of $2,000 today.

These days, with 100-bulb strands costing only about $1.99 on sale, your name becomes Scrooge in the neighborhood if you don't at least flock your bushes with them.

The peer pressure can be intense, jokes Mary Edsey, author of "The Best Christmas Decorations in Chicagoland."

"If one person on the block decorates, it instigates other people to do it," Edsey says. "A lot of people don't want the only dark house on the block."

Edsey has become something of an expert on the topic, having not only written a book on where to find the best decorations but maintaining a Web site on the subject ( and taking people on bus tours around the Chicago area to check out some of the more flamboyant displays.

If you think you see more elaborately decorated houses these days, you're probably right, Edsey says.

Part of the reason, she says, is there are new products introduced every year and the cost of buying many of them is relatively inexpensive. That makes it easy for dedicated decorators who like to be the first in the neighborhood with something new.

Edsey also hypothesizes that it may be a sign of the times. At a time when the economy continues to struggle, unemployment numbers remain high and home foreclosures are becoming frequent, some use holiday decorations to cheer themselves up and to do something nice for their neighbors, she says.

"In a way, the news has been so down that Christmas lights can really pick people up," Edsey says.

Those folks who really get into the idea of decorating and take it beyond a wreath on the door and lights along the gutters are a breed unto themselves, she says. Many of them are planning their displays all year long, and purchase or make new items every year, she says.

For them, half the fun is watching people stop outside their house to admire the end result, Edsey says. It becomes a neighborhood tradition -- and a noticeable void when for some reason the display doesn't go up, she says.

In her book, Edsey tells the story of Mike and Pam Arnold, whose home in Elgin is annually bedecked with more than 16,000 lights and 140 plastic figurines. In 2000, an accident prevented Mike from putting up his display.

The neighbors realized that with Mike out of commission that year, there would be no lights. So they stepped in, putting everything up in just five hours, she says. It's a job that normally takes Mike four to five weeks to complete, Edsey says.

The Arnolds' display will be up this year, as will most of the sites she lists in her 2008 book. Here are the places she recommends you check out in the Aurora, Naperville, Elgin and Joliet areas, along with a few others advertised online.


26240 W. Winding Oak Trail: Dave and Tina Weber; December through January. Display uses more than 22,000 lights and is synchronized to music. Check out their Web site at


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Roy and Carol Show 98.3 in the Mornings

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The Best Christmas Light Show!

Dave Weber of Channahon gets the best Christmas Lightshow of the year award. Dave's synchronized light show would put Clark Grisswald to shame. It's the most incredible thing I've seen. Here is the address: 26240 West Winding Oak Trail. Take Route 6 to Bell Road (south) to West Winding Oak Trail (3rd house of the right). Once you get there make sure you tune your radio to 106.9 fm (then back to WCCQ of course!) Bell road is about 1/4 east of Ridge off of Route 6.

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