Grand light display returns to Paxton (with video)
PAXTON — Victor Johnson could be forgiven if he has unkind thoughts about rabbits during this Christmas season.
They made a mess of a part of the grand Christmas lights display he had assembled at his family's home on Patton Street in Paxton.
"It was going great until a couple nights ago when they just completely tore into this stuff," he said as he sat on a milk crate in the snow beneath a Christmas tree made up of dozens of strands of Christmas lights in the front yard. "There was no problem for a while; the snow kept them away and I had this chicken wire up (over the spot where the strands of lights were plugged in). But then they found it and it's probably the worst spot for them to gnaw on. Right here I'm probably dealing with 25 different wires that they have chewed through. And then I have to figure out where they go to under all this snow."
Ahead for Johnson, 24, was hours of tedious splicing and reconnecting of wires in the dark and the snow and the cold. But he was almost cheery about it.
"I'm just going to have to redesign this next year, probably lift it a foot or 18 inches off the ground so they can't get to it. They like this area because it's like a nest with all of these wires," he said of the rabbits.
Johnson, who with his mother Kammy runs the Johnson & Johnson Insurance agency in Paxton, is accustomed to long, tedious hours of planning, synchronizing music, stringing lights and repairing breaks in the display of 141,322 individual white, red and green lights.
He worked on the music over the summer.
"Every minute of music might take me eight to 10 hours to synchronize. So with the two songs I added this year it's about five or six minutes of music so it's another 50 or 60 hours for that," he said.
Work on the lights display started Nov. 1.
"I started on the day after Halloween. Since then it's pretty much consistently working in the evening every day through November, and all day on weekends to get it done. It's probably a couple hundred hours," he said.
Johnson has decorated the solid, two-story brick house since he was 7 or 8 years old, originally helping his late father. The display started to become more spectacular when he was in high school and used 25,000 lights.
"The light bill was actually bigger then because I had all the lights on all the time," he said.
"I just remember that when I was younger I wanted my mom to drive us around so we could look at the Christmas lights. I just thought they were a joy to look at. I started asking my dad if I could help put the lights out and somewhere along the way, I don't remember when, I started doing it. Then through junior high and high school I kept adding stuff. It's like creating a piece of artwork, I guess, although I'm not an artwork kind of person. I like to build things. I like to make things. I like to show my creativity."
In 2011, Johnson said, he began to coordinate the lights with music. There were four songs that year and 85,000 lights.
Last year it grew to six songs and 120,000 lights.
This year it's eight songs in a 20-minute program. Also new are two big maple trees near the street that are blanketed with lights that go 40 feet high.
"A lot of people think it's really unique to have this in a small town. There are hundreds of people across the country who do this but to have this in a tiny town in central Illinois is really unique," said Johnson, whose other hobbies include attending University of Illinois sports events and Cubs games. "I get a lot of good feedback. And the only way this could continue to happen is with the support of the neighbors too and they all say they enjoy it so as long as they enjoy it I'll keep doing it."
Johnson's handiwork is also on display this weekend at the Paxton Federated Church, 221 W. Center St.
"There's about a three-quarter of an acre lot there with lawn lights scattered around the yard and they glow through the snow. It looks like little stars scattered around the grounds," he said. "I think it looks pretty neat."
On Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m. the church will have a live Nativity with a Bethlehem star that Johnson produced.
"It wasn't nearly as much work there as here. I did all of that in one evening," he said.
All the numbers
Address: 332 W. Patton St., Paxton
Hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; display is scheduled to run until Jan. 6
Rain alert: If it's raining, though, there may not be any lights because of potential damage to the electrical system. Check Facebook or Twitter for updates
Number of lights: 141,322 separate bulbs
Low-power FM station with music synchronized to lights: 89.9 FM. The station can only be heard in the Paxton area.
Songs in program: Eight on a 20-minute loop, with "He's a Pirate," "Music Box Dancer," "Circle of Life," "Call Me Maybe," Sandstorm," "Carol of the Bells," "Amazing Grace" "What Child is This"
Electric bill for Christmas display last December (for 120,000 lights): $275
Facebook page: Lighting Up Paxton - The Johnson Christmas Display
Twitter feed: @lightuppaxton