For Jeremy Vanek, putting up lights for the Christmas season is family tradition. He's following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
It also has become something he truly enjoys.
“It's my one big hobby,” he said, admitting: “Sometimes I don't worry about what something costs. I don't always tell my wife what I spent on something new.”
But that's OK. Melissa Vanek is on board with the project. And their 4-year-old daughter thinks it's pretty cool, too.
The Vaneks, who live on a corner lot at 15055 Meredith Ave., put up decorations in front, back and along one side of the house.
He takes a few vacation days to set everything up. It takes about four days if the weather cooperates, he said. “This year we lucked out with good weather.”
Jeremy's father, Louie, who lives in Columbus, Neb., usually helps his son out.
Each year, Vanek said, he decides on themes and groups things in different parts of the yard.
This year, there is an elf section and a penguin section, but his favorite is the nativity scene. A good friend's dad made it for him, and he treasures it.
The lights are synchronized to music on 91.9 FM, where there are three songs.
Vanek, who estimates that he has about 30,000 lights in his displays, said one of the most common questions he is asked is: “Do you have a huge electricity bill because of the holiday displays?”
It's not as bad as people might think, Vanek said. He uses mostly LED lights, which use less electricity than strings with the old incandescent bulbs. Surprisingly, synchronizing the lights to music also saves electricity, he said.
His bill only goes up about $40 for the whole season, he said, and that actually makes it one of the smallest expenses in the project.
The LED light strings cost more than the old lights used to, but they also last longer, Vanek said. “I've had some strings for seven or eight years.”
New displays and equipment for running them can be expensive, too.
The only thing he dreads weather-wise is rain. “I cringe if I see rain in the forecast. Rain bothers the lights. Snow, unless it's a foot or more, doesn't.”
Vanek said he will start planning for Christmas 2014 as soon as this year's holiday is over.
“I'll decide what I want to do and I'll see what I need to add,” he said. Sometimes he can find price deals on lights and decorations right after Christmas.
His yard decorations draw quite a bit of traffic, including limos and trolleys, especially on the weekends. But it doesn't seem to get out of hand.
“The neighbors are OK with it so far,” he said.
Does he have any words of wisdom for someone who wants to put a big, animated display in their yard?
“Start small,” he said. “Just dip your toe in the water. Don't try to do everything in one year.”
He said arranging the lights and getting everything to work can be frustrating. If someone tries to do too much at once, “you can get burned out.”
Vanek also said to set a budget and try to stick to it.
However, he doesn't worry too much about the cost. “It's all about spreading joy. That's priceless, so I justify it to myself.”