With her husband, Chuck, deployed to Afghanistan, Tiffany Brynteson didn't hold up much hope for decorating the outside of their Elk River home for the holidays. The best she could do was a couple of trees, a wire polar bear on the porch and a $3 snowman from Menards on the door singing: "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas" over and over and over.

Making matters worse, on their way home from Thanksgiving dinner, their 4-year-old daughter, Cassie, made a simple request as they drove past lit homes.

"Can we have lights like theirs?" she asked.

"No, honey, not this year," Tiffany told her.

On Thursday the incessant snowman appeared to be prophetic, as the outside of the Brynteson home did, indeed, begin to look a lot like Christmas.

In a three-hour makeover Thursday, the family became the first Minnesota winners of a national program that decorates the homes of families with members in the military.

A five-person crew from Christmas Decor, a Plymouth franchise of a Texas holiday and event decorating company, transformed the outside of the house into a holiday showcase, with two large wreaths, lights surrounding every outside window, and strings of lights outlining the contours of the two-story house.

Tiffany's mother, Leanne Wells, nominated the Bryntesons for the Decorated Family program. Tiffany was notified last Friday that the crew would be coming this week, giving her a choice of clear lights or colored. She chose colors.

"This is absolutely amazing," Tiffany said, as a crew member scrambled to the top of a snow-covered dormer. "It's like the best Christmas gift."

Even though he is a captain in the Minneapolis Fire Department, Chuck Brynteson in the past has been willing but reluctant to climb a ladder on a house that is not ablaze. The extent of his Christmas decorating was a string of lights along the lower part of the house.

An hour into the operation on Thursday, Chuck, a 41-year-old master sergeant with the Minneapolis-based 934th Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve, called home and got an update on the progress. He left in September for a 120-day deployment as a loadmaster on C-130 cargo planes stationed at Bagram Airfield.

"I don't think anybody has ever been that high on the roof," Tiffany told him. As for his holiday decorating prowess, Chuck admitted, "I've had no choice." Asked how much this might affect their electric bill, Tiffany joked that they were now like the family from National Lampoon's "Christmas Vacation," whose holiday decorations taxed the power grid to the point of shutting it down.

"Just call us the Griswolds," she joked.

Jeremy Leonard, who was supervising the crew, said they were excited to participate in the program and jumped at the chance to decorate the home. The crew has been working since October on decorating commercial buildings and residences, and the volunteer project was its last scheduled for this year.

"It's a good way to give back," he said. "We like what we do and its nice to do this for families who need it."

The decorations will remain up through January, when Chuck is scheduled to return. He has asked that the family celebrate Christmas together when he comes home.

Afterward, the crew will return, pack the decorations and store them at the company facility until next year.

Cassie not only enjoyed the prospect of lights outside, but also the attention of the work crew. She clung to Leonard as the other members of the crew put up lights on one of the windows.

Asked what she liked best, she was matter of fact:

"The green ones," she said, as the snowman on the door continued singing and the crew wrapped up its work.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434