For Bob and Sharon Emery, Christmas is a time for giving — to the electric company.
From the weekend after Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day, the Emerys’ front lawn on Stirling Drive is illuminated by a display of about 16,000 Christmas lights.
“This is our gift to Columbia,” Sharon Emery said. “We enjoy passing it along.”
Although the Emerys said their parents never decorated for the holidays, the Christmas bug seems to have bitten the couple. Built for about $800, their display has multiple items such as a 32-foot church with a ringing bell, a swan pond with a working fountain and, in this year’s addition, a gingerbread house.
“I always ask for something new every year,” Sharon Emery said. “I am always amazed that Bob can listen to what I want and make it even better.”
Bob Emery, a home inspector, said he has never had any training on how to create holiday spectacles.
“I just think about how to do it and do it,” he said.
Each piece takes about a week of spare time to build, beginning with a freehand drawing of what Bob Emery wants it to look like. He then draws his design on graph paper, welds it and wraps the lights around it.
“Every piece is designed in the interest of motion,” Bob Emery said, adding that his goal is to make the lights move in a sequence.
“It’s just like anything you would buy at a DJ supply store,” Bob Emery said. “It’s what they use to make their lights move in a pattern.”
Although Sharon Emery is not involved in the construction, she adds her touch to the display. For example, the colorful wooden sleigh Santa and Mrs. Claus drive is her handiwork.
“Those two are completely homemade,” Sharon Emery said. “They are stuffed with rags, pillows and even some old life preservers. She’s wearing a pair of my boots.”
This year, to honor the men and women fighting overseas, the Emerys have added a “Peace on Earth” banner.
All these lights come with a price, though: a bloated utility bill.
“It’s about $130 more in December,” Bob Emery said. “We always just know it’s gonna be more and plan for that.”
David Mars of Columbia Water and Light said most of the time homes don’t have an issue with steep holiday electric bills.
“There really isn’t any strain during the winter,” Mars said. “Lighting is a small part of residential usage.”
Ryan and Jessica Schultz don’t care about the cost of their lighting display on Forum Boulevard.
“It’s only for a month,” Ryan Schultz said.
The holiday is important to the couple, who were married near Christmas last year.
“When we were students at MU, we used to love to go around and look at lights,” Jessica Schultz said.
The Schultzes decided to go all out for this holiday because something bad happened last year.
“We had some reindeer and the lights stolen off our bushes,” Jessica Schultz said. “So this year we decided to come back big.”
They compensated by taking the web designed for the bushes and covering their roof instead.
The response from passers-by is the best reward for the Schultzes.
“I like seeing the cars go by slow,” Ryan Schultz said. “I was outside one day, and a lady drove up and thanked me for the lights.”
Like the Schultzes, the Emerys don’t let the fear of a larger bill take away from their Christmas spirit.
“(Our electric bill) doesn’t break the bank,” Bob Emery said. “About $3 or $4 a day is the cost to give to thousands.”
Thousands of people pass by the Emerys’ extravaganza. “I used to get anonymous letters in the mail with thank-you notes and money,” Sharon Emery said. “Or I would go outside to get the mail, and people would drive by with their arms extended offering me cash.”
That’s when the Emerys decided to put that giving to a good cause. On busy nights, people can find the Emerys out on their lawn with Christmas cans asking people to donate for Habitat for Humanity.
“We really like Habitat because it teaches people the value of work,” Bob Emery said. “You have to put in something in order to receive something.”
All donations are sent to the charity. In past years, they have sent about $2,000 to Habitat.
“The lights are all about giving,” Sharon Emery said. “You can’t just leave it; you have to pass it along.”