As the Christmas lights flashed to the beat of the music, car doors slammed and children squealed as Santa Clause made his grand entrance Wednesday night on Sunset Drive in Merced.
Though it’s a typical Merced neighborhood, after Thanksgiving two houses transform into spectacular animated light shows timed to Christmas music.
The homes are at 252 and 300 Sunset Drive, and the light shows are put on by their owners, the Ryan and the Libecki families – or, as their sweatshirts say, the “Lighting Crew.”
The display in the neighbors’ homes nearly mirror one another, and those driving by can tune in to 107.7 FM to “listen to the lights.”
Jena and John Libecki started putting on static light displays many, many years ago. But after a $600 power bill one season, they decided to switch it up and make the lights animated, cutting electricity costs in half, John Libecki said.
Their display became so large that it spilled over into their neighbors’ yard, so they asked their neighbors to participate. Sean and Michelle Ryan were all in. The two families have been putting on the joint show for nearly 10 years.
“They saw us put a Grinch on the roof one year and knew we’re game for anything,” Sean Ryan said.
Now, both houses are on solar, which means the light show hardly costs $5.
The work for the massive display is year-round. During the summer, Jena sketches the design, which is pretty consistent year after year with minor adjustments. If it’s not too hot, the men will start work on the roof in the summer. All plans, templates and manuals are kept in a giant binder, which the families have dubbed the “Christmas Bible.”
“We’ll start wrapping lights in the summer, take a dip in the pool and get back to work,” Jena Libecki joked.
Setup in the yard begins after Halloween. Everything visible is handmade. The Libeckis and Ryans solder their own lights – about 100,000 when everything is complete. Each night, the couples monitor the show and troubleshoot glitches.
The show officially lights up the day after Thanksgiving and runs each night – rain, fog or moon – from 6 to 10 p.m.
On Wednesday, children lined up on the sidewalk waiting to see Santa as cars parked nearby and traffic on the street slowed as people watched the show.
Yasbeth Ramos, 12, came from Livingston with her family so her younger siblings could see Santa. She recorded the light show on her cellphone.
Jason and Monica Price, who live across the street, said their 3-year-old daughter looks forward to the show and Santa’s visit each year.
“We bring her out everyday,” Monica Price said about little Marcela. “She loves it. We tell as many people as we can about it.”
Marcela told her parents she wants a puppy for Christmas, but her wish to Santa was slightly different: not just any puppy, a purple puppy.
Tiffanie Brown of Petaluma was in town visiting her mother, who mentioned the light show. Brown took her 3-year-old son, Keegan, to visit Santa. He asked Santa for a camera and a watch.
“This was the first year he got excited about Santa,” Brown said. “Last year he was sad. He’s a shy kid, so it’s nice to see that.”
And Santa didn’t just ask the children for their wish list, give them a candy cane and send them along.
“It’s nice to talk to the kids and see what makes them tick. What do they like, and do they have goals?” he said. “I think kids are important, and that’s why it’s fun to engage with them.”
As much work as it takes, the Ryans and Libeckis like watching the crowds and seeing the community enjoy the show. They feel families should have some free entertainment during the holidays.
“I was taking the garbage out one night, and as a car left I heard a child say, ‘Bye Santa! Bye reindeer! Bye Rudolph!’ ” John Libecki said. “That just touched my heart.”
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477