It's pretty hard to miss 1200 Cleveland St. these days, where illuminated Christmas trees, snowflakes, reindeer and stars flicker on and off in tune to holiday music. When “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” plays, each reindeer lights up when they’re named, leading up to Rudolph and his stoplight nose.
The amazing display is the work of Steve Maris, a Christmas buff who’s been decking out his Wilmette home for years. Then last year he saw a YouTube video of dancing lights.
“It piqued my interest,” he said.
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Maris said the winnings from his fantasy football league were burning a hole in his pocket, so he decided to use them to take his annual display to the next level. He won't say how much money it cost, but he spent three months programming the light display, with each of the 16 three-minute song taking about 10 hours to engineer.
Setup of the 30,000 lights took three weeks, with the display kicking off Thanksgiving Day. Since then, the Maris display has become a local hub for people looking for some holiday spirit.
“Everyone seems to be enjoying it,” Maris said modestly.
Steve’s wife Meg came up with the idea to use the display for more than just spreading cheer. She considered putting a donation’s box in front of their home, but was afraid that it would be stolen. Instead, the Maris’s decided to host a gathering Dec. 16 to raise funds for Children’s Memorial Hospital.
“Christmas is a holiday for the kids,” Meg said. “Children’s Memorial Hospital is local and they’ve been great for both my kids,” Meg said.
Between 5 and 7 p.m. on 16th, cars were lined up by the house and the street itself was blocked off, allowing families to take photos while their kids danced along. About 500 people gathered to watch the display, snack on free cookies and hot chocolate and get their pictures taken with Santa Claus. Julie Lipford of Wilmette has seen the Maris’s display before, but came by with her kids, Lilly and Ralphie, to visit with Santa.
“We drive by all the time and stop,” she said. “There’s nothing else like it besides the zoo.”
Neighbors gathered and shared a laugh about how residents near Thornwood Park have complained about the lights at the ice skating rink there, when the ones at the Maris home shine far brighter.
“We enjoy it every year,” said Bob Kumaki, who lives right across the street. “It’s just a nice thing to have for the neighborhood.”
At the end of the night, the Maris’s had collected about $1,000 in donations.
“Everything we can do to help a child in need or a family is the point of this,” Meg said.
If you haven't had the chance to stop by yet, the light display will run through New Year's Eve, with a special 13-minute show running from 4:30 to midnight Dec. 31. Plus Steve is already working on next year's display.