Wind through the wintry streets of the Sacramento area, and the lights signal that the holidays have arrived.
From 53rd and T streets in east Sacramento to Dovewood Court in Orangevale, you'll find houses decked with lavish lighting, huge inflatable Santas and rows of oversize candy canes. The holiday season means huge numbers of seasonal lights and the epic energy bills that go with them but it's all done with a hearty "ho ho ho" and plenty of festive fun.
So grab a hot cup of cocoa, slip on those mittens and wrap that scarf. Let's head to a local home that's especially illuminated right now.
Turning off Madison Avenue into an Old Foothill Farms neighborhood, everything looks dark. It might as well be just another sleepy night until turning onto Nonnie Avenue boom! There they are, 13,000 multicolored lights shining and blinking, plus Santa in a huge hot air balloon on the roof and a bunch of festive-looking inflatable penguins.
The accompanying music that's synced with the light display includes holiday tunes from Lady Gaga, the Chipmunks and others. Passing cars can hear this soundrack transmitted through 107.7 FM.
And that's just for starters.
The home belongs to Victor Estrada and his partner, Michael Hildebrand, who have turned their front lawn into a winter wonderland for the past four years. Each successive year, their holiday display turns increasingly more elaborate, with an accrued price tag of about $3,000 so far.
Estrada, a state worker, even took a week's vacation this year to get the holiday display going. There are lights to string up, music to synchronize, a 15-foot hot air balloon to install on the roof, giant letters that spell "NOEL" and 750 feet of wiring to go along with it all.
"Every year we've spent about another $1,000," said Estrada. "It started with just a few things on the lawn. Then we'd string lights around the outside. From there, it went crazy."
They've got two dedicated circuits, 30 amps each, to power the lights and displays. Sometimes the lights inside the house start to flicker when the holiday display is running fully. And there's the electric bill. Right now it runs about $450 a month, more than double the usual cost.
They've also dealt with the occasional vandal who's made off with some of the oversize candy canes or cut some of the lighting. Bah, humbug!
The display has been a big hit in the neighborhood, which features some scattered holiday lights but nothing that comes close to the magnitude of Estrada's house.
"For the last few years, I've wanted to have lights that say, 'DITTO,' " said Dan Roberts, Estrada's next-door neighbor. "It's great. You just have to get used to all the people slowing down in front of the house, but I'm cool with it."
If you're interested in investing in the time and effort to have a holiday light show that's the envy of the neighborhood, heed Estrada's tips:
Start shopping for goods the day after Christmas: "You can get everything for half off or more, then just wait and put it up for the following year."
To synchronize your lights and music perfectly, spend $250 on a Light-O-Rama, which uses a computer as a controller: "It's really cool, and you can do so much with it," said Estrada. "You can also use it for other holidays."
Make giant lollipop displays: "Take a bucket, draw a circle around the base on a piece of plywood and cut it out," said Estrada. "Use different colors of paint and then some PVC pipe to secure them and then they're a lollipop."
This holiday display runs from 6 to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 6 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. After the new year, the giant penguins and Christmas train will be deflated and the lights and other displays all stored away. Next year, just about the time the air turns foggy again and Thanksgiving dinner has been devoured, it'll be time to think about those lights again.
"I always liked Christmas lights," said Estrada. "I always wanted a big display, so I could see the kids and parents going 'ooooh' and 'ahh.' It's fun."