If you’ve ever nearly fallen off your roof while putting up your Christmas lights or had a single burned-out bulb taunt you from your home’s highest peak, you can appreciate the effort of John Striegel.
For 13 years, the 28-year-old railroad worker has adorned his mother’s Janesville home with enough holiday lights to brighten the city’s south side.
The ambitious endeavor has him joyfully sprinting on a hamster wheel of illumination duties that goes nonstop from Christmas to Christmas.
“We’ve already started talking about next year,” Striegel said. “We start putting it all up Oct. 1, and I work on it every weekend up to the end. (In the days leading up to launch), I work every day after work. And there are always tweaks here and there, so (the number of hours the show requires is) in the hundreds.
“It’s not like it consumes my life, but I have to plan it out for the entire year,” he added. “This isn’t something that can be done in just a couple of months.”
For fans of holiday decorating, the Striegel Family Light Show has become a must-see event. Set to music, this year’s 25,000-bulb extravaganza blends LEDs and RGBs with a healthy dose of yard ornaments.
While it maintains some similarities (an elf he received 20 years ago as a birthday gift from his grandmother shows up every year), Striegel said he strives to keep the show fresh.
“I work a lot of overtime to pay for the show, and if I’m not working to pay for the show, I’m working on the show,” he said. “I’m a tinkerer, so if I wasn’t doing the lights, I’d just be doing something else.”
Self-taught, Striegel relied on Internet videos and bloggers with similar interests to help him hone his craft. These days, he has moved on to high-tech equipment purchased overseas and holiday bulbs that can simultaneously transition to nearly every color of the rainbow.
Along with design, Striegel does a fair amount of custom work on the show. For example, those 8-foot, RGB candy canes are handmade.
“I’m a big DIY guy. That’s the stuff I find fun,” he said. “I like the planning and the building. My least favorite thing is taking it all down.”
Fortunately, Striegel doesn’t have to do it alone. His work crew consists of his wife, Brittany; his brother and sister-in-law, Jeremy and Chrystal Blaedow; his brother-in-law, Dylan Mullikin, and his brother-in-law’s brother, Tyler Blaedow. Those are among the faces you’ll likely see handing out candy canes on Friday and Saturday nights, when traffic is the most daunting.
In addition to spreading Christmas cheer, Striegel and his crew use the show to build goodwill—leveraging their hard work toward a worthy cause. Visitors are encouraged to make a donation to the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin and, in the past 12 years, the show has raised nearly $19,000 for the nonprofit.
“That’s kind of the tradition now,” he said. “A couple years into it, I saw an article in the paper about how they needed money to keep doing what they were doing. It just came into our heads to put a box out for donations, and it has just become ingrained into the show.”
As fewer and fewer people seem to dedicate time toward decorating for the holidays, Striegel appears happy to buck the trend. Channeling his childhood, he fondly looks back at the example set by his parents, Donald and Linda, for inspiration.
“They used to do a pretty extravagant amount of lights at our old house on Afton Road,” he said. “It was just lights and a few reindeer. It was way before computers, LED and all that. I kind of brought it through all those stages, and now I’m running RGB, where every light bulb can change colors.
“But it’s still a childhood thing I hang onto—just a tradition I’ve had since I was little. I don’t know if I could imagine a Christmas without all this going on.”