Lights contests amp up community spirit in Coon Rapids

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 24, 2013 - 9:10 AM

Judges for Coon Rapids’ annual contest shed light on what makes a holiday display brilliant.


This house on 116th Lane in Coon Rapids was among those entered in an annual holiday lights contest that is judged by the city’s arts commissioners.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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John Kocon surveyed the blazing holiday light display with a critical eye.

The Coon Rapids homeowners went all in on the dozens of illuminated lawn figures splashed across the yard. It’s definitely festive, but the execution is a bit lacking, Kocon concluded. Glowing Nativity scene figures are mixed and matched with snowmen, Santa, reindeer and woodland creatures.

Perhaps the homeowner should have reined it in? Nah. When it comes to holiday lights, more is better!

All Kocon wants for Christmas is a slightly more cohesive front lawn.

“I might have built an igloo,” he said, pointing to one grouping of figures, to pull the whole scene together.

As a member of the Coon Rapids Arts Commission, Kocon is one of four judges for the city’s annual lighting contest.

Contests like this are one way communities make the holidays bright. In Coon Rapids, there’s prize money on the line — $50 in several categories and $100 for an overall grand prize — but it’s really about bragging rights.

What it takes

On a recent snowy night, the Coon Rapids judges set out in a Dodge minivan to evaluate the entrants and crown the winners. They pulled back the curtain, allowing the Star Tribune to witness the judging.

What takes an ordinary holiday lights display and amps it up to an award winner?

It’s a mix of precision, neatness, overall appeal and originality. Those are the categories used to evaluate entrants.

Cookies from homeowners don’t hurt, either. Last year, an entrant ran out with some sweets, scoring some extra brownie points with the judges. But actually, the cookies weren’t enough; the home wasn’t a prize winner.

Each judge scores each entrant, comparing overall scores over ale at a local tavern afterward.

All four judges get out of the van to check out the split-level on Vintage Street. The front of the house is awash in lights — Clark Griswold style. A projection of Santa frolics in the front window. Every tree, rail and surface in the front lawn is covered in lights, pulsing to music.

Now this speaks to the judges. Snoopy would be proud.

“When you put a lot of thought into the theme, it works out well,” says Kocon, as he snaps photos of the house.

The house, adorned with 85,000 twinkle lights, ultimately takes the grand prize. It was also a prize winner last year.

“I ask them to make out the prize check directly to the electric company,” quipped homeowner and winner Tim Yohnk.

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