For kids from 1 to 92, Christmas lights are an extraordinary way to celebrate the holidays.
Putting up your own lights or driving around to see the handiwork of others is a special way to make your Christmas season merry.
That’s certainly how it is for the Brown family. For the last 25 years, the Browns have brightened their neighborhood with their lights display at 4109 Fitzgerald Court, Erlanger. Their lights are part of a compilation from Enquirer reporters of some of the most festive holiday light displays around Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
Putting up the display, according to Bert Brown, is a “pretty major process” that begins after Halloween and involves testing all the lights and figures – Santa, a Nativity scene, snowmen and so forth. The entire family pitches in.
Brown and his wife, Melinda, sketch locations of major items, then build around those with other decorations. Melinda is also in charge of ribbon and bows that highlight the display. Their children Payton and Addison do a lot of the labor to get things from location to location. Bert’s father, Chub, is 85 now, so he provides “supervision.”
It’s always worth it, Brown said.
“We put up the display to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Christ is not ordinary, so why should Christmas be ordinary,” he said. Their display is anything but ordinary.
For some, looking at lights is part of the holiday season. Others want to put up the best and brightest display. For Ryan Simpson, it’s a little of both. He loves Christmas lights so much he started a Facebook group to help people find great holiday displays. You can see updated lists, photos and videos from displays across the Tristate.
Simpson doesn’t just take the word of folks who submit Christmas decorations for his list. He goes out every night to see them for himself.
“I’m kind of a Christmas savant,” Simpson said. “I can drive around and pretty much tell you what’s included in displays if I have seen them. I love them all, but I am always on the lookout for something that’s different or quirky.”
Simpson’s display at 2076 West Galbraith Road in North College Hill is bookended by two legendary displays: Roy Dixon’s in Colerain Township and Bill Zapf’s, both on Galbraith Road. His goal is the same every year: get bigger.
He says the displays are a lot of work, but the work is worth it. “When you are part of someone’s Christmas tradition, that’s cool. Strangers drive by and they have no idea who you are, but they came to see your lights,” Simpson said.
Amelia: 31 Grouse Drive. Tim Klanke’s annual display includes a toy drive collecting new unwrapped toys. Of thousands of lights, many are synced to Trans Siberian Orchestra Christmas music.
Anderson Township: 757 Eight Mile Road. What started as a way to embarrass their children by covering practically the entire yard with lights and decorations has evolved into an annual tradition. The Hawkins family’s display has expanded since it was first put up in the late 1990s.
“People would say to (our) daughters about how they liked this home on Eight Mile and it would be ours so we started putting on even more,” said Glenn Hawkins, who decorates with his wife, Carol. The home was even featured on the Weather Channel years ago.
“We do it for the Christmas spirit more than anything else,” Glenn said.
Bethel: 2643 E. Amelia Farms Road. This display is an “absolute must-see,” according to Cincy Xmas Lights.
Bridgetown:3717 Krierview Drive. The Wiesman family have decorated their home for 40 years. “It’s the holiday spirit, and we like to share it with our family,” Russell Wiesman Jr. said. “We always have people stopping.”
Carthage: 7211 Fairpark Ave. Nestled between Springfield Township and Wyoming, tune in to 107.5 to hear the music as the lights dance.
Colerain Township: 5790 Blackwolf Run and 7788 Shadowleaf Lane. These are two displays in the same neighborhood. And Roy Dixon has been seen putting his huge display out at 2451 W. Galbraith Road.
Referred to as Santa Claus Lane, the display on Taylor Road in Green Township encompasses four homes.
“It’s a passion,” said Rick Barker, whose home at 6778 Taylor Road is among those featured. “A lot of people have golf as a hobby, this is my hobby.”
One of the reasons he and the other neighbors have put up the display for more than 30 years is the joy it brings others. “It’s giving back to the people on the West Side,” he said.
It’s also drawn some comparisons to a well-remembered display featured in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
However, Barker is quick to add, “I’d consider the Griswold home a starter kit.”
Goshen: 2200 Ohio 132 (corner of Ohio 132 and Shiloh).
Green Township:5201 Valley Ridge Road. Dennis and Bonnie Campbell Jr. go for what Dennis calls “the traditional” approach. “We have a sleigh and deer on one side of the house and then on the other side Santa, polar bears, penguins and elves,” he said.
Although the Campbells decorate for their children and grandchildren, Bonnie said she also just loves the season. “Christmas is my time of the year,” she said.
Montgomery: 10127 Montgomery Road. Comer and Polly Bond go all out with their display in Montgomery. It includes 12-foot soldiers, a 14-foot star and 8-foot snowflakes.
“We want to spread the Christmas cheer and let people know what it is all about,” Comer said. “We have a lot of people stopping by and taking pictures. It’s quite a treat for us when they do it.”
North College Hill: 2032 W. Galbraith Road. Bill Zapf’s display is a Christmas tradition for many in the area
Sharonville: 4205 Allenhurst Close Court. This display has an all-white theme, and it’s beautiful.
Wyoming: 9 North Ave.: Cool, clean and lovely to look at.
Newport: 100 W. Broadway St. The Downtown skyline has been a backdrop for Frank Peluso’s hilltop Christmas lights extravaganza in Newport for 40 years.
A 25-foot green wreath, which originally hung on the former Dayton, Ohio, Shillito’s department store, frames skyscrapers in a circle of white lights.
Candy canes 8 feet tall entice visitors downhill along a street lined with lights to Peluso’s seasonal light smorgasbord.
Lights are arrayed to fill the Newport city commissioner’s property on both sides of the street. He has a working train layout. An illuminated inflatable snow family sit in a white van parked along the street.
“The reason I do it is just to look at the faces when people come down and look at it,” Peluso said. “If I could bottle up and spread it out over the course of the year the world would be a better place.”
Some newer neighbors have expressed surprise at the over-the-top light display, Peluso said.
“They’re going to have to get used to it,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere, nor is my Christmas display.”
Burlington: 3251 Millakin Place. The Kramer family started its popular Christmas lights display 25 years ago. Before that, from 1988 to 1992, the family decorated its previous “smaller home.”
“At that time it was the house, three arches, a Nativity set and the bushes,” Mike Kramer said. “Once we moved here, the arches increased first to 16 and it continued to grow. We bought a controller that could play canned music and control up to six sets of lights.”
Soon, however, the Kramers synced their lights with radio station 87.9. Now instead of six sets of lights, they can control up to 176 sets or around 40,000 lights.
“We start on weekends in mid-September and try to turn them on the Saturday after Thanksgiving,” Kramer said.
The lights are on 5:30-10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5:30-11 p.m. Friday through Saturday.
According to Kramer, the setup is “a family affair, as well as occasionally a next-door neighbor.”
“My favorite part of the display is when the columns and the small arches sequence to a fast-paced song,” he said. “The reason we do this is to bring some joy to all kids, young and old. It is very rewarding. Some nights, even with the house windows closed you can hear the kids getting so excited. That brings everything into perspective, it warms your heart and makes you smile inside that something as simple as these lights can do so much good.”
Burlington: 3251 Millakin Place. At the Kramer Family Christmas Lights, watch the show synced with Christmas music on radio station 87.9.
Erlanger: 4109 Fitzgerald Court. Brown family’s Christmas Celebration in Lights. No ordinary display.
Florence: 8344 Pleasant Valley Road. The Schreiber family display is one of the best-attended holiday displays. If you’re lucky, Santa may even show up!
Fort Mitchell: 10 W. Maple Ave. The house across from the Mercedes-Benz dealership has attracted wondrous stares and smiles in the last couple years. Stop by for a glimpse of an old-fashioned holiday house.
Independence: 5179 Christopher Drive. Lovely blue, green and red hues mesh well for a classic Christmas scene.
Lakeside Park: 2621 Dixie Highway. Dan Schneider has grown 20 full-size Christmas trees in his backyard. Lit up nightly in alternating red and white LED lights, the trees are stunning as you drive south on Dixie Highway. Fun inflatables round things out in the front, Schneider says, on evenings that aren’t too breezy. For a relaxed and safer view, pull into the old Cincinnati Bell building parking lot.