Like most everything else these days, a holiday tradition is going interactive.
Homeowners across the Twin Cities have bedazzled their yards with the usual glut of holiday lights, anticipating a monthlong tour of curious drivers rolling through the neighborhood.
But this year, people aren't just driving by -- they're getting out of their cars. Homeowners have encouraged this trend by offering an interactive buffet of features to attract passersby. Some people keep it simple: a Hopkins couple dress up like Santa and Mrs. Claus to hand out candy canes. Others are getting philanthropic -- many yards now feature decorative boxes for food-shelf donations. Some homeowners go all out with full-on choirs singing Christmas carols.
And then there's the Rozell family. They cook for the neighborhood.
"I feel bad that the neighbors have to put up with all these lights and all those cars, so I started inviting them over for food," said Lynn Rozell of Hopkins. "It turns into a big party."
She'll make Christmas cookies and little smokies in the garage. As for the show, Rozell and her husband, Richard, specialize in building a candy cane wonderland, complete with more than 20,000 red-and-white colored lights, plus candy cane blow molds. A few years ago the couple started dressing up as Santa and Mrs. Claus, along with their elf, son Andrew.
"At first, my husband balked about dressing up as Santa, now I can't talk him out of it," Rozell said. This year, Santa and Mrs. Claus will make an appearance on Dec. 15 from 6 to 9 p.m., minus Andrew, who has outgrown his elf costume.
"We get Hummers, stretch limos and little buses filled with seniors. You can see the flashes from cameras. Folks will even get out and take pictures next to the manger," she said.
For families like the Rozells, an intensive, interactive lighting display comes at a cost: They often don't celebrate Thanksgiving.
"No matter what the weather is, we're out there getting stuff ready," Lynn Rozell said. Then there's the electric bill. "But now our bill has been cut in half with LED lights," she said.
Food for lights
Nancy Odell's display in Burnsville boasts more than 32,000 lights around her house and trees. "I like the simple approach," she said.
One standout addition this year: a decorated box to collect hygiene products, paper goods and nonperishable food items for Project Pantry's Holidays Without Hunger campaign, a program masterminded by the Eagan and Lakeville Resource Centers.
"The need is always there, but it always seems to increase around the holidays," said Nancy Wester, of the Resource Centers.
Odell said she got the idea after noticing that some families with light displays were collecting donations. "It's a great way to help the community," she said.
Donating to a techno beat
The Schwiesow family of Lakeville has been collecting food donations since 2008. They've tallied 1,112 pounds of food and $2,095 in cash donations. The 9-foot star on their roof is a holiday draw.
Their display has more than 10,000 lights with more than 100 channels of synchronized light strings that play such songs as "The House on Christmas Street" and even a techno version of "Amazing Grace." On the weekend, a projection of Santa appears to move about the inside of the house.
"From the street, he looks real," said Jeff Schwiesow.
Schwiesow's daughter, 17-year-old Brooklyn, helps her father with programming the lights. She also is in charge of the family's food drive. The donations go to 360 Communities, an organization that serves the southern suburbs.
"It gives me a good feeling," Brooklyn Schwiesow said.
But the lights are still the main attraction. Some people even make a night out of it in front of the Schwiesow home. Jeff Schwiesow said couples will bring their own snacks and get out of their cars to snap photos of each other.
"Some folks come to our cul-de-sac for a date," he said.
Melissa Walker • 612-673-4461
METRO-AREA HOLIDAY LIGHT DISPLAYS
5669 Large Av. NE.: More than 20,000 lights on and around the house and yard. Six large inflatables and hundreds of light-up figures.
13949 Nightingale St.: Blow-mold figures and lights.
13959 Nightingale St.: Ninety blow-mold figures and lights.
13452 Flagstaff Av.: Computer animated light show.
13540 Ferris Av.: Light show coordinated to music.
10422 Briar Circle: Thousands of lights and more than 80 figurines. Collections being taken for Second Harvest food bank.
8016 Upton Circle N.: 65,000 lights dance to the music in Santa’s toy land and enchanted forest.
1409 Summit Oaks Dr.: More than 32,000 lights around house and trees. A donation box for personal hygiene, paper goods, household products and perishable items for Project Pantry.
4102 88th Lane NE.: 25,000 lights sequenced to music.
10940 Magnolia St. NW.: A three-tier LED light fence surrounds a lighted house. Yard filled with blow molds, silhouettes, blow-ups and other decorations.
12052 Vintage St. NW.: More than 75,000 lights that dance to music.
528 Severn Way: More than 100 illuminated figures including a full Nativity scene, and inflatables.
1206 226th Av. NE.: More than 150 blow molds including Nativity scene, snowmen and, Santa’s North Pole Workshop and more.
10785 Valley View Rd.: A senior living cooperative with a wide variety of lights and decorations.
5324 Interlachen Blvd.: Giant blow-up snow globe, LED and rope lights, reindeer and even Santa on the roof.
324 10th Av. N.: More than 20,000 lights cover the front and back of house. With homemade decorations, inflatables and blow molds.
101 Ridgewood Dr.: 20,000 lights with a candy cane theme.
Inver Grove Heights
2088 67th St. E.: LED lights surround a group of angels with the message, “Peace on Earth.”
8450 Ann Marie Trail: Thousands of lights and more than 220 plastic statues and inflatables. A “playground” with a teeter totter, slide, swings and carousel. A mailbox for kids to mail letters to Santa.
6451 Beckman Court: Thousands of lights synchronized to music with custom-made 19-foot Ferris wheel, roller coaster and candy canes. Accepts canned food donations. Santa makes an appearance Dec. 21-22.
2005 67th St. E.: Thousands of lights and homemade decoration. Choirs singing carols at 5 p.m. Dec. 14-15. Accepting food and monetary donations for Neighbors Inc.
16374 Harmony Path: Animated lights synchronized to Christmas music. Accepting food shelf donations for 360 communities.
Shoppes at Arbor Lakes: Festive holiday music plays as 70,000 lights and festive decorations glow throughout the decorated pathways. www.shoppesatarborlakes.com.
3808 18th Av. S.: A yard filled with a Nativity scene, church and carolers on one side and a North Pole scene on the other complete with Santa and Mrs. Claus, elves, snowmen and polar bears.
4836 Nokomis Av. S.: More than 6,000 lights and a 4-feet diameter globe with 2,000 lights.
5080 Longview Dr.: Nativity scene with a computerized star that flashes in three stages, lights and moving Ferris wheel, teeter totter and merry-go-round.
35855 Lincoln Rd.: Cars can drive through this display of more than 240 lighted figurines including Santa guiding his six reindeer, a complete Nativity scene and toy soldiers.
6953 26th St. Court N.: Forty flood-lit hand-painted wooden figures and 9,000 lights.
7785 Lancaster Av. NE.: More than 100 lawn figures and 14,000 lights.
4320 Ithaca Lane N.: Synchronized light show through trees and light poles.
4149 W. 136 1/2 St.: A winter wonderland light display with LED lights synchronized to music. Santa makes an appearance on Dec. 15.
1101 Naumkeag St.: 1800s Victorian brick farmhouse decorated, house and yard with lights, Nativity scene, candy canes. Also Santa Claus, sleigh and reindeer, large decorated and lighted evergreen trees and holiday music.
South St. Paul
239 Dessa Lane: More than 15,000 lights, 120 figurines and 15 blow-ups. Santa, Mrs. Claus, the Grinch and elves are present to collect food and monetary donations for local charities.
Wheelock Pkwy. and Phalen Dr.: Phalen Park is transformed into a fantasy of lights and color with more than 50 sculptures and animated displays. www.lightsinthepark.org.
6001 Woodbine Av.: More than 20,000 lights with visits from Santa on Dec. 15 and 22 and dropoff for Toys for Tots.