Frank Keis decided to stop smoking cold turkey in 1959 and use the money that he used to spend on cigarettes to purchase outdoor Christmas lights and decorations each year.
That first year, he crafted a “Merry Christmas” message out of some lights and chicken wire, and hung two plastic lanterns on either side of the front door.
Now, 56 years later, the collection that Keis and his wife, Julia, have gathered over the years is so large that they only set up about half each season on their one-acre property at 33385 Townshipline Road (between Gladwin Road and Riverside Street).
It’s a tradition that Keis, now in his 80s, plans to continue for a long as possible.
“The people come and say they appreciate it, so that sort of gives you a good feeling,” he said.
The collection consists of thousands of coloured lights and dozens of plastic and blow-up figures filling the Keis’ front yard, including a chorus of carollers, a row of candy canes, playful penguins, Santa and his reindeer, and some Peanuts and Disney characters.
Early characters were handcrafted by Keis out of plywood, but he then began purchasing plastic ones from stores.
Some have weathered over the years and have required touch-ups, such as the nativity scene that’s about 40 years old and which Keis displays without fail every year. Others have been permanently retired, and new ones arrive to take their place.
The set-up work usually begins in late October or early November. Some of the Keis’ nine grandchildren used to help with the process, but many of them are now busy with their own families or careers, or are away at university.
This year, Keis hired help for two days, and his sister and daughter also provided some assistance.
The lights go on in early December and run nightly from 4:30 to 10:30 until Jan. 1.
The display is an annual stop for many families and bus tours, who are more than welcome to pull into the Keis’ large driveway to take a closer look. Keis said participants on one seniors’ tour are known to enjoy hot chocolate on their bus while they pause in the driveway for about 30 minutes.
He doesn’t mind, and said there has been very little vandalism or theft to his collection over the years.
“I mean, that’s what it’s for,” Keis said of the people who stop to enjoy the view.
“We do it for the enjoyment,” Keis said.