Arts and Entertainment

Light displays spread holiday cheer

Frosty the Snowman and winter penguins greet visitors to the Hawkins home on Bainbridge Island. - Brian Jennings photo
Frosty the Snowman and winter penguins greet visitors to the Hawkins home on Bainbridge Island.
— image credit: Brian Jennings photo

Standing in Kevin Hawkins’ yard, you would never know the dark winter is upon us.

Glowing like the noon-day sun, Hawkins’ yard lights up the Commodore West neighborhood on Bainbridge Island.

Fifteen years ago, when he first started decorating his house, Hawkins put up simple strands of lights. The original strands grew year by year into the spectacle seen today.

“They’ve had babies and multiplied like rabbits,” Hawkins said.

Stands and strands of lights intertwine with familiar inflatable Christmas characters. A 15-foot Nutcracker stands watch over the winter wonderland scene.

Beginning in early November, Hawkins starts to plan and layout his display. To keep the scene fresh, he tweaks it each year by rearranging items and adding new effects.

Because of the short lifespan of holiday lights, Hawkins is forced to become creative each year with new displays. Hawkins said the life span for a strand of lights is about five years.

The annual Rotary Auction has been a tremendous source for finding decorations at a reasonable price. Hawkins takes one family’s forgotten display and turns it into part of his Christmas ensemble. After-holiday sales also help Hawkins add to his collection without breaking the bank.

He’s still in search of what he calls the “holy grail of Christmas decorations”: a 12-foot long, hard plastic mold of Santa and his reindeer. He once found it on eBay, but the shipping cost was prohibitive.

Hawkins estimates it takes 40 hours to transform his yard into an illuminated wonderland. He and his family hang each light strand themselves. Once he consulted with professional light hangers. The bid he received from the pros was so high Hawkins said he would have needed to take out a second mortgage to cover the cost.

Instead, he and his two teenage sons work together crafting the magic. Along the way, his sons have learned skills like soldering and electrical work.

Further into the neighborhood and around the bend from the Hawkins home, another house is all aglow.

Tammy and Jeff Kesler’s lifelike video projection of Santa Claus is visible in their front window. Two snow machines add to the holiday spirit. A cast of Christmas trees and figures illuminate the yard.

The Keslers became such serious exterior illumination aficionados that two years ago Tammy traveled to Tennessee to attend a national Christmas Light Convention. (Who knew?)

The families insist that their is no rivalry between them.

“It’s never been a competition,” Hawkins said. “If I had my way, there’d be 20 more houses (in the neighborhood) that have more lights on than I do.”

Both homes have embraced technology; computer programs, timers and sound effects enhance their displays. They also both use LED lights to cut down on energy use.

Hawkins estimates his electric bill triples once he switches on the lights.

And the Keslers?

“I’ve never looked,” Tammy Kesler said.

Perhaps it’s best not to know.

Hawkins estimates that 200-300 cars drive by their house during a December weekend. For both families, seeing smiles on young children’s faces makes the labor of love worth it.

On a recent evening outside the Kesler home, a car slowed and audible squeals of delight were heard.

“We love your lights,” called out a mom, with a back seat full of little ones.

Hawkins tells a story of speaking to an economics class at Bainbridge High School. He made a passing remark about his home in Commodore West.

He told the students, “You may have driven by my house during the holidays. My house is the one with all the Christmas lights.”

They knew the home, and Hawkins received an impromptu round of applause.

The Christmas lights provide an instant connection with people in the community.

Hawkins loves to hear, “Oh! You’re the one with that house?”

“It has become part of my identity,” he said.

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