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Extreme makeover: Christmas edition

Caption
(Josh Peckler – jpeckler@shawmedia.com)
Paul Hill unwinds Christmas lights Sunday with help from his granddaughter, Gianna Grube, 6, as they add decorations to the outside of Hill's home in McHenry. Hill has been decorating the outside of his home for almost 15 years and keeps adding different types of decorations each year.

McHENRY – Some people decorate for the holidays. Andy Glab transforms.

His front yard becomes a Christmas village. Walk by one mini-home and hear angels singing “Silent Night.” Walk by others and see polar bears shaking their hips or penguins spinning. Santa Claus resides in another.

Across Glab’s yard at 5001 Oakwood Drive in McHenry, figures dance and sing in holiday houses – Glab’s spin on taking Christmas decorations to the extreme.

“I always try to come up with something new and unique and innovative,” said Glab, a McHenry alderman. “Something that you don’t see on normal Christmas decorations.”

Glab isn’t the only one who goes above and beyond. Most towns have holiday hot spots – lit-up homes that stick out in residential rows of icicle lights and light-strung bushes. They are the homeowners who, it’s easy to tell, live for this time of year.

Glab spends at least 40 hours each fall setting up his display. His January energy bill jumps to about $280 from an average of about $85 a month. But, after 20 years of building and perfecting his setup, he has stories that fuel his efforts.

Three or four years after he started, a child knocked on his door around Christmastime, handed a bag of candy to Glab’s wife and told her she’d won the prize. Turns out, the boy drove around the county with his grandma each year to recognize the best display. Glab got visits from the boy the next two years, as well.

A couple of years later, Glab was putting the finishing touches on his lights when a car pulled up.

“There’s this little nose pressed up against the window in the back, and the kid was just in awe,” he said. “All that hard work, and you’re tired out from putting up Christmas decorations, and suddenly you see that. You’re inspired to do more.”

Kids are at the heart of many extreme holiday decorators. Paul Hill of 1707 Rogers Ave. in McHenry puts countless hours into his annual display.

His most notable creation is a lighted “Merry Christmas” sign that sits toward the edge of his yard, overlooking his quiet McHenry street.

“It started out small, and every year it gets bigger,” said Hill, who started decorating his house about 15 years ago. “The main reason I do it is for the grandkids and family.”

Hill, like Glab, spends the fall preparing his display. For some, though, holiday decor is a yearlong endeavor.

Mark Tarkowski of 653 Walnut Road in Wauconda started planning this year’s display as soon as he took last year’s down.

Tarkowski uses his background in information technology to put together a display of 6,900 lights, strung on a half-mile of wire and synced to a rotation of songs that visitors can hear on FM 88.7.

People started posting YouTube videos in 2005 of home light displays synced to music, Tarkowski said. He knew right away he wanted to create his own.

“This is my type of thing” he said. “I like playing around with computers and software ... and learning new things.”

Tarkowski has started his own Facebook page and hopes to draw people to his neighborhood to enjoy his lights. He said the word is starting to get out.

“I see a couple cars a night just driving by, stopping and listening and watching,” he said.

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