To understand why Dave Maetzold of Edina has been meticulously putting up twinkling Christmas lights in his yard for three decades, you have to know the story behind the locust tree.

The holiday season had always been a sad time for Maetzold, whose father died on Christmas Eve when he was 10.

Thirty years ago, shortly after buying his home on Halifax Avenue, he planted a locust sapling. The year after that, wonderful things began happening to him, including meeting and marrying his wife of 29 years, Sharon. "Something in me changed because of that tree," he said.

So he began to adorn the tree with simple white lights. And over the years, the tradition grew.

The scope of the decorations has grown so much that now limos, buses and nursing-home tours often include the Maetzold home as a stop on their seasonal visits to the area's most decorated homes.

"To me, the lights represent love, happiness and renewed faith, and I think other people see that as well," he said. "People tell me the lights bring joy to the neighborhood."

The lights are up well before Christmas and stay up well into each new year, and Dave adds seasonal symbols for other holidays: orange icicle lights that drip down like moss for Halloween; hearts made of coat hangers and wrapped in red lights for Valentine's Day (dedicated to Sharon, of course); and in between, lit-up likenesses of champagne glasses to mark each New Year's Eve.

Dave, who now is retired, does all of the decorating himself -- with no help from Sharon, she emphasizes. He starts in September, replacing burned-out bulbs and unraveling unruly strands.

When he began his displays, many houses on his street had lights, but now, people either don't put them up or hire someone to do it.

"People think it is too much work now. They don't have time. It takes patience," he said. "It's different for me, though, because I love doing it."

Sometimes it's hard to find lights that aren't LEDs -- which are too expensive, Sharon notes -- but the best time to buy is right after Christmas, they say.

This year, the Maetzolds almost decided not to put up the lights because they have purchased a lake home in Chaska and maintaining two homes has become a lot of work. But then both Dave and Sharon thought of all the responses they've gotten over the years to their lights -- in cards, gifts and even a postcard from a visitor from the Bahamas who saw the display -- and they decided to compromise.

Dave decided to only put up the lights in the front yard this year; he estimates that's still 200 to 300 strands. He even lights a pine tree in his neighbors' front yard.

The Maetzold home is well-known locally for the one tree -- the locust -- that Dave keeps lit in white lights year-round. This time of year, it has brightly colored presents hanging from its branches.

Sharon said that recently, when she was describing where she lived to someone, the person asked: "Are you close to that tree?"

Sharon was happy to respond: "We are that tree!"

Erin Adler is a Minneapolis freelance writer.