Nothing but a power outage can stop the magic on Christmas Lane!
Even in the middle of a global pandemic, Kenosha area residents can safely stroll or drive down 68th Street west of 60th Avenue to enjoy the decorations during the holidays. It’s a tradition that has brought joy to people of all ages and has even spread to the surrounding areas.
Although 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the street officially being called Christmas Lane, the light shows go back even farther than that. It all began in the 1980s with two neighbors having a friendly competition of who can have the bigger and better light show. The city of Kenosha officially gave it the title Christmas Lane in 1990.
You’ll find homes with traditional lights lining rooftops, others with as many inflatable characters as can fit, some with religious themed arrangements, and more Santas and snowmen than you can count! The cheer is certainly abundant, and that is what it’s all about. Especially in a year like 2020.
We we happy to meet up with a few residents of Christmas Lane and talk about what it means to them.
Steve and Debbie Hartfield moved back to Kenosha in 1987 after living in Illinois for 7 years.
“When you move here, you know what Christmas Lane means,” Steve told The Smart Reader.
“Christmas Lane means giving love and happiness back to the community. We love the joy we see from all who come by around Christmas time.”
Jayme Raddatz and his wife Suzie moved to Christmas Lane in 2014.
“I loved this street when I was younger, and when I saw a house was for sale back, we looked at it immediately and put in an offer the same day. Year round it really is a great neighborhood,” Jayme told The Smart Reader.
Others did not know what was coming. John and Carol Lesnak fit that category when they moved here in the spring of 2002.
“We didn’t know at the time what we were in for,” John told The Smart Reader. “Our two sons, Joe and Pete, were just 9 and 5 and when we saw CYC field in our back yard, we thought it was perfect for us.”
The Lesnaks have gone all out on decorations several times, but have joked about being the lone wolf that doesn’t participate.
“We have received Top Decoration certificate a couple of times,” Lesnak said. “But then sometimes we have joked about putting up a single star of David, it would be so much easier!”
Decorate or death???
“None of the rumors are true,” Raddatz said. “We are not obligated to put up Christmas lights. We do not sign a contract. WE energies does not pay our bills. We do it for the love of it! That and nobody wants to be the one house on the block with no lights!”
“Anyone from this area knows that this is sort of a ‘holiday cult’ neighborhood,” Steve Wiersum said. Steve and his wife Jennifer moved to the neighborhood in 2006. “You know what you’re getting yourself into.”
Being a resident of Christmas Lane comes with its share of great memories
“I used to dress as Santa and wave at cars and hand out candy canes to the kids. Once a young special needs child waved at me. With her parents permission, I gave her a candy cane and she said, ‘Thank you, Santa!’ With tears in her eyes, her mother told me that she hadn’t heard her speak a word in months. There was still some magic in that old, red suit,” Wiersum said.
John Lesnak has one memory his family won’t let him forget.
“One year, we were having a Christmas party with a full house of parents and kids. I was outside and a neighbor dressed as Santa was walking by. I invited him into the house to sit by our fireplace to add some joy for the kids – I didn’t know that he was a little tipsy.” he said.
The Smart Reader was unable to reach back out to Wiersum to ask if he was the said Santa.
And it delivers its share of warm and fuzzy feelings.
“I love to see kids freaking out and saying, ‘Oh my God! Look at that!’ when they see one of the light shows,” Raddatz said. “I remember coming here with my parents when I was a kid and now I get to share that with my daughter.”
“In the past, we have collected thousands of dollars for various organizations with our hot chocolate stands. I hope we can do it agin next year once Covid-19 is behind us,” Lesnak said.
“Christmas Lane reminds me of my childhood and all the great Christmas’ our parents gave us when we were children. I hope our kids and all who visit our street will have those kind of memories for years to come.”
A year-round affair
Steve Wiersum says the neighborhood is pretty quiet other times of the year, but it all starts around Halloween.
“After everyone has enjoyed the holiday season, it’s just a dead end street for the rest of the year. It’s a great neighborhood, quiet and not a lot of traffic,” Wiersum said.
“But, my wife starts reminding me after Halloween that we have to have them up by Thanksgiving. Once the pumpkins come off the porch, the lights come out of storage to see what works and what doesn’t. The first year I was here, I actually drew up a diagram so I could remember what went where – I was young!”
“The planning never stops! We usually start putting things up the day after Halloween so we’re ready to go live on Thanksgiving,” Raddatz said.
By Jason Hedman & Donny Stancato
Photos by Donny Stancato
Special thanks to Jayme Raddatz for his help in putting together this story.
This story originally appears in the December 17, 2020 issue of The Smart Reader