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Paynesville Press - December 17, 2003

Paynesville woman spreads Christmas cheer

By Michael Jacobson

Extension cords Despite all the extension cords strewn across her lawn and the lights running on her roof, Darlene Wendlandt reported that Santa Claus, his reindeer, and his sleigh have never had any trouble landing at her house. In fact, with all the lights in her yard, on her garage, and on her house, Santa should never miss her.

"I don't decorate the inside of my house," said Darlene, who does not even have a Christmas tree inside her house on Minnesota Street. "I feel my house is my Christmas tree. I don't need to decorate the inside." All kids - big and little - like her house, she said.

Darlene started her elaborate Christmas decorations in much simpler fashion. Two evergreen trees stood between her house and her neighbor, and she began by putting lights on these trees. Then she got a Santa Claus as a Christmas gift and realized that she could buy more Christmas decorations. Soon she was searching the town for them.

Darlene Wendlandt Tree She was having so much fun that she lined her house with lights, hung decorations in windows, put lights on her neighbor's fence, and arranged her yard with all manner of lighted creations. By her rough count, she has 21 deer, nine trees, four angels, four snowmen, three Santa Clauses, two presents, one drummer boy (new this year), one sleigh, and one moose.

"I'm lucky enough to have a big enough yard to do it," said Wendlandt, who lives near the elementary school.

Wendlandt, who has lived in town for 16 years, never decorated the farm near Lake Henry nor did she decorate her house in Paynesville until a few years ago. She really started with Christmas decorations in 2001, and this is her third season. She started with a little bit of decorations and it grew into an obsession, or disease, she calls it. Every year now she has to see what new decorations are available.

Darlene Wendlandt tweaks a bulb on one of her 1,000-light Christmas trees, her favorite decoration. It takes Wendlandt two weeks in November to put up all her decorations, which she does with little help.

Darlene does the work to get her house and yard ready for Christmas in the fall, when it's still warm. She does almost all of it herself. Her brother held the ladder for her when she hung lights on the roof of the house this year, and a few of her grandchildren helped with some of the assembly.

Other than that, she said, she does it all herself. Normally, it takes a couple weeks for her to get all the figures assembled and lights hung, but she only works at it an hour or two each day.

"After I had it all arranged, I had to rearrange it because I didn't like it," she said, explaining that she had to switch a few things around and change to difference color lights in other places.

She always turns on the lights for the first time the day after Thanksgiving. And she continues until the start of January. Most nights, the lights are on at her house from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

Her Christmas lights are well known around town, and people ask Darlene about them in the grocery store or at work at the hospital, where she has been a nursing assistant for 30 years. A frequent comment is: "I had to take my kids past your house to see the lights."

She laughs when people ask how many lights she has or how many extension cords she uses. She does not know but plans to count the lights this year when she takes down her Christmas decorations. (As for extension cords, a quick count revealed at least two dozen reaching from each side of her house.)

Backyard lights She knows how much all her decorations have cost, because she keeps track, but she isn't sharing. She does admit, though, that her electricity bill doubles for the month of December. Just sharing a little Christmas cheer with the electric company, she said.

Not only her house, but her backyard is covered with lights.

"If I had more outlets, I'd probably have more lights," said Wendlandt. "It's fun."

Actually, she already has had three extra outlets installed in order to have more Christmas decorations but now she thinks her yard and house are pretty full. She isn't likely to add more, only find new things and replace older decorations.

Darlene likes to look at other people's Christmas decorations and gets ideas for new things from them. "Actually, I think about it all year long: How am I going to arrange them?" Darlene said. "Because I already have some ideas for next year."

She plans to continue to decorate her house, garage, and yard as long as she can continue. Maybe, she'll even accept more help from her eight children or 19 grandchildren in order to keep doing it.

The hardest part in hanging the decorations is reaching the high points of her house. But hanging the decorations is always better than taking them down and putting them away, she said. That takes as long as three weeks, partly because it is less exciting to put them away than it is to put them up. But also because it is colder in January.

Mainly, though, the reason it takes longer to take them down and put them away, she said, is because they never go back into the box quite as easily as they come out.

House with lights She stores all her Christmas figures in the original box to save space. Still, she stores her decoration in the garage, in a room in her basement, and in a closet.

It was never her idea to start Christmas decorations as a hobby, but now she enjoys it too much to stop. "It's just fun to do," she said. "It's worth my effort."

She notices that traffic is thicker by her house when her Christmas lights are on, which they are, most evenings. Some people even try to drive past her house through the alley to see her backyard, only to discover that the alley ends and have to turn around. Others get out and take pictures or walk past her house to get a better view.

Her Christmas lights are a way to spread Christmas cheer, she thinks, and it is especially rewarding when someone thanks her for this. A couple years ago, a seventh grader wrote Darlene a thank-you letter after driving past her house with her family. This year, a neighbor brought Darlene a poinsettia as a thank-you present for brightening the neighborhood.

She likes knowing that people enjoy seeing her Christmas decorations, and she likes spreading Christmas cheer. It's her way of saying Merry Christmas to everyone. And she is not worried at all what any Scrooges may think.

Her advice to any Scrooges who do not like Christmas lights is to try it because you might like it. "It's not for everybody," she added. "I didn't think I'd be doing it either, but I enjoy doing it."

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