People from as far away as Germany and Japan have stopped in front of Roger and Linda Dawson’s Woodbury home to take photos of their impressive lights display.
But the work to get the thousands of lights and dozens of ornaments and figurines up each year is more locally focused.
“After Halloween the neighborhood kids come up and help carry stuff out of the garage,” Roger said. “They help take it down in spring, too. And in January we take the kids to Chucky Cheese to say thanks.”
Their Woodbine Avenue home has become one of the city’s best-known lights displays each winter.
And it also helps when friends are asking for directions to the home—a 32-foot string of lights spells out “Merry Christmas” on a fence.
“People will say, ‘Oh, you’re Mr. Merry Christmas,’” Roger said. “They say you can see it from the interstate.”
As a child his family would take trips to a home in West St. Paul each winter to check out a lights display there. Now, his home is a destination for those looking to take in some holiday cheer.
The display has spread to other homes on his block. He and Linda often give their ornaments to neighbors… and offer some encouragement, as well.
“When people move in, the first thing I say to them is they’ve got to put up Christmas lights—or they need to move out,” Roger said with a laugh.
For the past three or four years, the lights display has become more high tech, and now features flashing lights timed to the beats of Christmas carols.
The programming responsibility has fallen to Linda, who also decides where each thing goes.
“It’s slave labor,” she said. “I get to do all the blue-collar work.”
The Dawsons started decorating in earnest in the early 1990s, and the display simply grew each year. They used to enter the city’s holiday lights contest when it was going on. (They won several categories several times.)
A few pieces, namely the reindeer on the roof, have remained over the years, but Roger said, “I’m always looking for something.”
They even took a trip to Tennessee this summer for a lights expo, where they secured a “mega tree” for the front yard this year.
Do they think they’ve gone overboard?
“No,” Roger quickly answered.
(Linda silently nodded her head yes.)
New in recent years are more LED lights, which reduced their electric bill from $700 a month to the $300 to $350 range, said Linda, who works at nearby 3M. “LEDs are wonderful.”
They have, on occasion, received Christmas cards with funds to help pay the electric bill.
The couple has run into a few problems with the display. Before they had electrical upgrades completed, there was a time when Linda was doing laundry and the fuses kept popping.
“That’s it, shut those bloody lights down,” Linda recalled thinking.
There were vandals one year, and the home and yard are now under surveillance. Another year, Roger helped police catch some kids who had taken ornaments from a neighbor’s yard.
“We should make them come back and set up next year as restitution and they’ll know what it’s all about,” he said.
Aside from giving folks something fun to look at, the Dawsons also collect items for Toys for Tots and have Santa come out to say hello.
It’s a two-week process to get all the lights up each year, Linda said, though the neighborhood kids provide a big help.
As much work as the display is, Linda said it helps them feel more connected with the Woodbury community.
“There’s no doubt neighbors are looking out for each other,” she said.
In the end, Roger said he doesn’t have a favorite among the items in his yard.
“I think it’s just all of it. You’ve got to love it all… or more,” he said, and chuckled.