Families decorate for holidays

Decorations in the front yard of the home of Bill and Sandee Van De Wyngaerde on South Vine Street in Urbana. Erica Magda

Decorations in the front yard of the home of Bill and Sandee Van De Wyngaerde on South Vine Street in Urbana. Erica Magda

By Kelly Gustafson

While decorating for the holidays this year, Sandee Van De Wyngaerde’s husband not only fell off an 8-foot ladder, his falling chainsaw, which was not turned on, whacked him across the face and left a long scrape.

Surprisingly, it will take much more than a few bumps or bruises to keep the 66-year-old from scaling the trees next year, when once again he will deck his house in holiday decorations.

“Of course, it won’t stop us,” Van De Wyngaerde said. “We enjoy it so much.”

For the past 12 years the Van De Wyngaerdes have lived in their home at 1705 S. Vine St., and they have gone all-out when it comes to Christmas lights and decorations. Their yard has a magnificent display of lights, snowmen and decorated trees that the entire neighborhood can enjoy.

Some decorations carry sentimental value. One part of the display is a beautifully decorated pantry door that Van De Wyngaerde and her brother used to play games in growing up.

“My neighbor across the street told me she’s got the best view in Urbana,” she said.

Campustown, too, will be illuminated, as some fraternities and sororities follow suit and embellish their houses with lights as part of Sigma Alpha’s annual philanthropy.

“We host a decorating contest,” said Molly Wethington, sophomore in ACES and philanthropy chairwoman. “The $50 entry fees will go to the Champaign County Humane Society.”

Adam Leady, junior in ACES, said his fraternity began decorating its house right after Thanksgiving break. According to Leady, Alpha Gamma Rho has won the competition every year since he was a freshman.

“I like it,” Leady said. “Plus, it gives us a little more pride in our house.”

Leady added that the decorating is a project given to each incoming freshman class to see if they can out-do the previous class’s efforts.

Van De Wyngaerde said she also likes to set up a full-blown Christmas extravaganza for neighborhood children to enjoy.

“One year we came home and there were all these itty bitty footprints in the snow in our yard,” she said. “We found out a kindergarten class had taken their pictures in front of Frosty.”

While both Van De Wyngaerde and her husband aren’t exactly young, they continue to put up all their lights by themselves, including the icicle lights on the roof and the garlands of lights in the trees, because it’s a tradition that is fun for them.

Van De Wyngaerde said one year she worried that her husband was having a heart attack while he was stringing lights into the top of a tree.

“It turned out he was just having a leg cramp,” she said. “Now that’s the big joke; he gets up to the top of the tree and his leg cramped up and he almost couldn’t get down.”

The Van De Wyngaerdes like to get a jump start on their outdoor adornments earlier than most; they are on the roof stringing up lights while most people are setting out Halloween candy.

“We don’t actually turn any of the lights on until Thanksgiving night,” Van De Wyngaerde said. “My husband won’t let me.”

Thanksgiving evening marks the official start of the Van De Wyngaerdes’ one-house festival of lights, with the close falling around Jan. 4. Although rising energy costs might stop some families from creating a monthlong Christmas display, the Van De Wyngaerdes are not bothered by the significantly higher bill they traditionally receive every January.

“Illinois Power Ameren just sends us a thank you note,” she said.

All of the lights are controlled by automatic timers so they turn on every day around 4 p.m. and shut off at 11 p.m. As one of the few houses in the neighborhood with lights, the Van De Wyngaerde home brightens spirits and draws in light-lookers from all over.

The inside of the Van De Wyngaerde home is further proof that they do nothing half-heartedly when it comes to holiday décor. Van De Wyngaerde has four Christmas trees she trims each year: one in the sunroom, living room, family room and even the bathroom.

Over the years, she has made over 300 ornaments to adorn those trees.

Van De Wyngaerde added she has always known she’s wanted to have a Clark Griswold-esque Christmas spectacle since she was a young girl.

“I was born and raised in the country. When we were little we only had one string of big bulb lights that we switched on as a car drove by and had to switch off right after. I told myself ‘When I grow up, I’m going to have all the lights I want,'” she said. “You know what? I’ve got all the lights I want.”