The Christmas lights outside Russ Bayer’s home just east of Lincoln -- more than 60,000 of them -- are a family affair.
It starts in September, when the Bayer family begins checking the lights.
In October, assembly starts in earnest, and when it really gets going, Gwen makes a big pot of chili and four of the five grown Bayer children, minus the one who now lives in Seattle, make their way home to help.
Friends come by to help, too, as do the four grandchildren.
When they’re done, they have a Christmas light extravaganza, those 60,000-plus lights synchronized to Christmas music broadcast on a short-wave radio frequency so the lights twinkle and the trees flash on and off to a holiday beat.
“It’s a good hobby for us,” said Bayer, who owns a software company in Omaha but lives at 633 S. 112th St. on enough land that he can keep adding to the displays each year.
There are light trees and real pine trees laced with lights. A toy factory and a Santa and his reindeer. Snowmen and penguins and Seasons Greetings signs and snowflakes.
And there are cars. Lots and lots of cars that drive down the gravel road at night to watch the 20-minute program.
Last Saturday night, Bayer said, they estimated about 500 cars drove by to see the spectacle during the six hours it played.
Every year, he said, he goes to a neighborhood picnic and asks his neighbors if they’re OK with his hobby. They always are, he said.
The hobby started -- on a much smaller scale -- when they lived in Lincoln, he said. When they built this house in 1994, they added exterior outlets so Bayer would quit blowing fuses. About 2000, they discovered the computer program that allows them to put the display to music.
One of the Bayers' sons, an architect, helps them map out the display. And every year, they add something.
This year, it was a snow globe, some penguins and a “happy holidays” sign. They also rearranged the light trees near the road, the ones that flash on and off to the music.
The lights aren’t too bothersome for those inside the house, he said, although he does turn down the volume on the speakers mounted on the house at about 9 p.m. so the music isn’t so loud.
Investing in LED lights has cut their electric bill by about 40 percent, he said.
He figures the family puts in about 300 hours to get the display up and running each year.
But it’s worth it.
Once, a local sign company donated signs displaying the radio frequency. And they get thank-you notes from visitors every year, stuffed in the mailbox or placed by the front door.
“We really enjoy the fact that people drive by and stop and look at it.”