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PAXTON — At the age of 8, Victor Johnson seized control of his family’s outdoor Christmas decorations duty.
“Every year, we’d just add things. When I was 10, I probably just did a few lights on the bushes, those that I could reach,” said Johnson, now 22.
When he was 16, his birthday gift was an extension ladder so he could reach the highest parts of his family’s sturdy, two-story, 94-year-old home in Paxton.
“My family all pitched in and gave him that on one condition: that he watch the safety video first,” recalled Victor’s mother, Kammy Johnson. “He’s always had a knack for fixing things up and building things. When he was in kindergarten, we got him K’nex toys. He made a roller coaster that was designed for kids 12 and up. He did it in about three hours without the instructions. He just looked at the pictures and put it together.”
This year, he has put together a Christmas display of about 85,000 lights — 45,000 clear, 20,000 green and 20,000 red — completely synchronized to music broadcast over a low-power FM transmitter.
It’s the biggest and most complex display he’s attempted. Two years ago, he had 25,000 lights (the same number, incidentally, as the fictional Clark Griswold in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”) but no music.
“I was planning on doing a display last year, but I was so busy with school,” said Johnson, then a senior in crop science at the University of Illinois. “It was just too much for me with finals coming up so I just passed on it.”
But he started planning for this year’s display a year ago.
“Last year during finals, I would take a break and go online and I came upon some displays that show you how to do this,” he said. “I remember seeing Richard Holdman’s display video (of a home in Pleasant Grove, Utah) and I took some inspiration from that. He has no figurines, just lights, and I really like that look.”
Johnson designed and planned the display in the spring, upgraded the home’s electrical systems in the summer (installing 20 circuit breakers and 20 outdoor electrical outlets), started sequencing the music to the lights in August and began wrapping the lights onto displays after that. Seventeen 6-foot-tall Christmas tree outlines sit in front of the house, each one with 800 white lights and 400 red and green lights.
“I spent almost two weeks doing that up to Halloween,” he said. “And on Halloween night, I started putting up the lights on the roof. I spent so much time on that roof.”
Twenty-five separate extension cords run to the roof, part of a network of more than a mile of extensions, he said.
Johnson, who works with his mother at the family insurance agency in downtown Paxton, estimated he has spent more than $1,000 and 300 hours just setting up the display.
And then there’s the electric bill. Two years ago, when there were just 25,000 lights, it was more than $500 a month.
“He tells me that the additional lights aren’t going to increase it that much because the lights are just blinking, they’re not on all the time,” said Kammy Johnson. “We’ll see. He says he’s paying for it.”
Every night as darkness drops onto Paxton, cars begin to line up and sit in front of the house at 332 W. Patton St., the families inside watching Victor Johnson’s light and music show.
“I’ll come home from work and I’ll just sit over there in the corner and watch the show and get goosebumps. It gives me goosebumps, Victor,” Kammy Johson tells her son. “I know I’m your mom, I’m entitled to be that way. But I think most people who see it are just amazed by it.”