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Christmas displays are as individual as the people creating them.

Some are kaleidoscopes of color and movement. Linking groups of flashing lights to the beat of music is the latest wrinkle to an old tradition.

Other displays step away from those trends in favor of understatement and elegance.

Whatever the style, light-swathed homes and yards cheer up the darkest days of the year.

The grand prize winner of The Gazette’s annual Share the Spirit holiday decorating contest is Chris Troup for his extravaganza of lights that includes many homemade features. He wins $100.

Two first-place winners will receive $25 each:

• Herb and Candace Samek’s Heights front yard is a thoughtfully designed arrangement of lights, figures and other decorations.

• Madelene Schodt created a Victorian look with burgundy-bowed garlands decorating the outside of her home.

Eleven-year-old Dominic Marnolejo received an honorable mention for his joyful display.


GRAND PRIZE

Kristie and Chris Troup family

4516 Stone St.

• Getting there: Drive down Calhoun Lane and turn east onto Stone Street.

Chris and Kristie Troup lived in an apartment before moving into their current home, but the small space didn’t keep them from decorating for Christmas.

They filled the inside of the apartment with holiday cheer. Chris Troup also decorated their balcony with as many lights and Christmas figures as he could fit into the tiny area.

When they moved to Stone Street three years ago, they acquired a larger palette for Chris’ decorating zeal.

Working year round, he has made holiday lawn ornaments until his frontyard, deck and driveway are decorated to the hilt.

Most of them he either made himself or bought at local thrift shops. He picked up construction materials such as PVC pipe, wood and Plexiglas at the Habitat for Humanity Restore.

Troup covered the front of his house in vertical white and multicolored lights and strung red and green lights across his roof. Lights twinkle on the chimney.

He made a scalloped border to look like an overhang of snow just under the gutters.

Lights on the front porch flash in time to the beat of music.

A “North Pole” mail box sticks out of an igloo. A large toy factory has elves working inside. A teeter-totter moves up and down thanks to a windshield-wiper motor.

Along the sidewalk is a red-and-white-striped fence made with PVC pipe.

Troup used conduit to make four, 25-foot lighted arches over the driveway. To hold the arch in place, the ends of the conduit are slipped over rebar stuck in the ground on each side of the driveway. He then wrapped each arch with 400 lights.

The illuminated arches give the display an extra pop, he said.

A moving Ferris wheel gives stuffed animals a ride. Large ABC blocks and toy-soldier drums decorate the lawn.

Look into the Troups’ front window to see a life-sized Santa standing in their living room.

The Troups’ 4-year-old son, Ahrian, loves the profusion of lights, particularly a 10-foot tall nutcracker.

His son’s and other children’s delight is the reason why Troup works so hard. If he boosts the Christmas spirit for adults, too, that’s an extra bonus.

Last year the massive display blew a few fuses. But, after recent electrical work, Troup now has 13 dedicated 23-amp breakers just for Christmas lights.

He closely works with electrician Brandon Matts, who was on call around the clock for advice as Troup set up the display.

Troup’s electrical current system is big enough to handle 90,000 lights, about three times what he has up this year. The only problem is that he has maxed out space on his front lawn and house.

“I’m going to need a bigger lawn,” he said.

Although the materials to build the display are cheap, the electricity to power them isn’t. Last year, the Troups’ December electric bill was $150.

Troup has drawn inspiration from his father, Ken Jansa of Glasgow, who also loves to decorate for Christmas. Troup’s mother, Barb Jansa, lives in Billings.

Chris started putting up lights Oct. 1 and finished by Thanksgiving. He takes December off to relax and enjoy his handiwork.

After Christmas, everything is stored in their two-car garage.

In January, he starts building decorations for next Christmas. He works at it as a hobby around his full-time job selling cars for Auto Plaza.

The Troups celebrate Christmas inside their house, too. Their collection of Christmas stockings encircles the living room. Dozens of Santa Clauses fill every space.

The Troups have a large barrel at the corner of their display to collect children’s toys and clothing for Children’s Protective Services. Troup also plans to donate his winnings to that organization to bring Christmas to its clients.

Troup had a team of people helping him, including the staff at Ace Hardware on State Street who answered questions, his aunt Dian Petters and Hanson Chemicals, which donated materials.


FIRST PLACE

Madelene Schodt

4502 Morgan Ave.

• Getting there: Drive down Calhoun Lane and turn east onto Morgan Avenue.

The nights before Madelene Schodt begins putting up Christmas lights on her home, she lies awake in bed thinking about how she will choreograph the complicated steps to install the display.

A lot of planning goes into where to start and how to lay out the strings of lights and extension cords.

Schodt’s Victorian garlanded display won a first prize in The Gazette’s Share the Spirit holiday decorating contest.

Schodt was born and grew up in and around Billings and has lived here all of her life.

She has decorated the outside of her house for Christmas since 2004. That summer, she had a white picket fence installed, something she always had wanted.

The fence called out for garlands. Schodt obliged, decking the fence with more than 100 feet of greenery.

Garlands also now border her front windows, front door and porch railing.

Some of the garlands came threaded with strings of light. For garlands that didn’t, Schodt had to incorporate her own lights.

Weather-proof velvety burgundy bows from the Dollar Store accent the greenery.

Schodt has added several moving figures to the scene. Near the house are a snowboarding snowman; Santa and Mrs. Claus on a seesaw; and Santa’s sleigh with leaping reindeer.

A lighted American flag illuminates a front window.

Miniature lights line the garage eaves, with a Christmas tree on each side of the garage door, a “Happy Holiday” sign over the top of the garage door and a snowman at the side entrance to the house.

Seventy-six-year-old Schodt does most of the work with help from Harold Ellingson. Joey LaRue does work requiring climbing a ladder.

This year, Schodt began in October and worked into November while the weather was still warm.

Schodt enjoys lighting up her home at Christmas. She likes the way that the lights cheer up dreary winter nights.

“It gives you a warm, special feeling,” she said.

There also was a big pay off when she turns on the lights for the first time and sees the results of her hard work.


FIRST PLACE

Herb and Candace Samek

1850 Bannack Drive

• Getting there: Drive north on Main Street in the Heights. Turn right onto Wicks Lane. Turn left onto Hawthorne Lane. Turn right onto Barrett Road and right onto Bannack Drive.

Candace Samek and her cat, Marilyn, enjoy sitting at the Sameks’ living room window looking out on the glow of the family’s outdoor display.

The lights and moving figures create a serene, peaceful scene Candace never tires of gazing at.

It takes Candace and her husband, Herb, at least three full days to set up the display before Thanksgiving.

Candace assembles the large moose, deer and other figures. Herb places the dozens of pieces of the display in their large yard; installs 300 feet of arched, lighted fencing along both sides of their driveway; and hangs multicolored icicles from the eaves of their home.

After night falls, the well-balanced display is breathtaking.

Two rocking horses slowly move back and forth near the street.

Nutcrackers guard the Sameks’ front door. A family of penguins and a group of snow people keep them company nearby. A train, smoke billowing and wheels spinning, chugs up a hill.

Deer and moose graze in an oblong landscaping island outlined with 800 small lights.

“Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” signs hang from old-fashion street lamps along the driveway.

The couple, who have two grown children and two grandchildren, moved to the house in 1976. They began putting up exterior Christmas decorations in 2002, starting out with the lighted driveway fence and a few figures.

Nearly every year since, they’ve added more as their budget has allowed.

Candace found the electric candles in their windows when visiting a garage sale.

At Goodwill, she bought a large, twinkling wreath studded with silver ornaments and ribbons that decorates the front of the house.

The Sameks’ display demanded ingenuity as well as hard work.

Herb devised a way to dress up their garage door and still open the garage door.

A large wreath and two candy-cane light decorations are attached to hooks at the eaves. To keep them from blowing in the wind, they are anchored by a long cord attached to a heavy block of wood.

When Herb wants to get one of their cars out, he unhooks the decorations and moves them out of the way.

Herb has several tips for others setting up larger lighting displays:

• Have the right ladders. Herb has five, including one that extends to 20 feet.

• When working with electrical components or climbing on a ladder have someone standing by in case of an emergency.

• To save time next year, label extension cords to indicate what decorations they plug into and where they are used in the display.

Herb has worked as a maintenance technician keeping surgical equipment running at Billings Clinic for 34 years. Candace is a stay-at-home grandmother caring for their 3-year-old granddaughter during the day.

The Sameks think of their display as a Christmas gift to Billings and enjoy sharing it with others.


HONORABLE MENTION

Dominic Marnolejo

706 Ave. C

• Getting there: Coming up Virginia Lane, turn west onto Avenue C.

Dominic Marnolejo’s grandmother, Denise Dietrich, didn’t have to nudge the 11-year-old into setting up his Christmas lighting display this year.

“He pulls out the totes and gets to work on it,” taking two weeks to get the job done, Dietrich said.

“It’s amazing how much time he spends,” she said.

When he adds a new decoration to his collection, he takes time to think about how to work it into the display. It also takes some thought to figure out how to organize extension cords and get everything plugged in.

Dominic makes many trips to the street to look back at the display and tweaks the arrangement if needed. When it snows, he lifts the lights resting on the ground, so they can be seen.

“He’s very picky about it,” Dietrich said.

Dominic won an honorable mention in The Gazette’s Share the Spirit holiday decorating contest.

He is the son of Danielle Elizondo.

This is the fourth year that Dominic, a sixth-grader at Highland Elementary, has decorated his grandmother’s front lawn with colorful inflatable characters and lights.

The first year, Dietrich helped him. Since then, Dominic has done the whole thing.

This year, he has two carousals, lollipop trees, deer, lighted Christmas trees, a horse-drawn sleigh with presents, a waving snowman, a train with wheels that go around, lighted candy canes, lighted presents and icicle lights strung between two trees in the yard.

An inflatable snowman drives a motorcycle with a penguin in the side car. Two penguins take cover behind a snow fort.

There’s also a nativity scene with Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus.

Flashing lights outline sidewalk and bushes. A string of large-bulb Christmas lights adorns the lawn.

New this year are two old-fashion lamp posts on either side of the front walkway.

Some of the decorations were given to him. Others he buys with money he earns doing odd jobs.

Because Dominic uses decorations that he likes, they readily appeal to children passing by.

“You can see the child in this display,” Dietrich said.

Dominic enjoys setting the lights because “it’s fun and cool.”

It also looks nice at night, he said.

He likes decorating for Christmas and Halloween, too, but, as he gets older, he’s developing other interests as well, including dirt biking.

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