Johnson Family Lights up Reddick

By Brandon LaChance

It’s hard to miss.

If you’re too close, it may be hard to see because of the brightness.

No, we’re not talking about the sun, we’re talking about the Johnson family’s Christmas decorations on the outskirts of Reddick.

“We always think of the Griswold family in Christmas Vacation when they turn their lights on and you hear the nuclear plant go out and they have to flip the switch,” Katie Johnson said. “Two or three years ago, my husband, Brian, was on the field every day until a couple of days before Christmas. People were so mad at him because he didn’t get the tree up.”

Brian Johnson also receives comments, jokes, and praises about the display on a regular basis as people constantly honk as they drive past the Johnson home, or stop to take pictures and say hello.

“Our neighbors always joke around with us about it. They say their lights dim when we turn on our lights,” Brian Johnson said. “The lights are on a timer. They turn on at 4:30 p.m. and shut off at 7:30 a.m. They’re on all night.

“The worst part with the outside lights is the wind. It beats up the lights. We have to constantly replace lights, so it can get expensive. One year, we put all the lights on the gutters and the next day we had 45-mile per hour winds and all of the lights were in the gutters. We had to pull all of them out.

“But, it’s a lot of fun and I enjoy it.”

The joy of taking 2 ½ hours to put 900-plus feet of Christmas lights on a 50-foot tree began 10 years ago.

At first, Brian used a pole to put the lights up, but as the tree continued to grow, the lights stopped at the halfway point.

With the addition of a lift (bought for the Johnson farm, originally), Brian and Hayden – who is the only child from the couple of 21 years, married for 16 – are able to reach 40-feet of the tree.

There are negotiations being had about purchasing a longer lift…for the farm, wink wink.

“The lift is 40 feet and we can’t reach the top. I’d say the tree is close to 50-feet tall. The star on top is actually not on top,” Brian Johnson said. It’s about eight- or nine feet down from the top of the tree. You can’t really notice unless you’re right next to it.

“It’s funny how many people ask me, ‘How do you put the lights on?’ I think I’m going to start telling them, ‘I climb it.’”

The big tree surrounded by numerous smaller trees outside of the Johnson home is just the beginning.

Inside the home is the rest of the family’s 40-plus versions of the holiday staple.

There is the vintage room, the Christmas movie bar, the traditional Christmas room, snowman standing on the stairs telling you how many days are left until Christmas, the Grinch room with an upside-down tree and a tree coming out of the fireplace (Hayden’s idea), a Minnesota Vikings nutcracker at the end of a row of its peers, and much, much, much more.

“I decorate for every holiday, but not like I do for Christmas,” Katie Johnson said. “Christmas is my favorite because of sentimental reasons. My mom and dad (Amy and Kevin Wancho) always made Christmas special and I wanted to make Christmas special for my son. It’s kind of spiraled since then.

“It’s the most magical time of the year until we have to take it down and then they’re mad at me.”

But not too mad.

Actually, the entire family is really into the decorating process which started 16 years ago when Hayden celebrated his first Christmas.

Every year since then, Hayden helps his dad outside and has made deals with his mom such as taking 50-plus trips up and down the attic steps to bring the trees, lights, ornaments, and other decorations down so all his mother has to do is decorate.

“It means a lot. I know they care about me and love me,” said Hayden, who is a junior at Herscher High School. “It’s special because then I can pass on the tradition to my kids and grandkids. That’s what I look forward to.”

He doesn’t think the same happy thoughts during the trudge up the stairs, but before and afterward is different.

“The outside is pretty fun. Inside, I like the bar area because I love Christmas movies,” Hayden added. “I really enjoy bonding with my mom and dad while we’re doing this. I’ve already had a lot of compliments from people at school. They say our Christmas lights look really good. I have a couple of buddies who drove by and honked a couple of times.”

The bond shared with Hayden is exactly why Katie began collecting Christmas memorabilia and a reason Katie is one of Hobby Lobby’s top customers.

She knew how much she loved Christmas and the time spent with her family including her grandparents John and Verna Clark and Al and Agnes Wancho.

In their memory, she wanted it to continue in her own home.

“My favorite is my vintage room just because I’ve tried to incorporate my family. I almost cry every time I put up my grandma’s ornaments,” Katie said. “My other grandma always gave me Precious Moments, so I put those out. Every time I put them up, I think about them. I have Christmas pictures that are from my childhood and pictures of Brian’s childhood, and I put them up because they’re sentimental to me.

“Christmas was always a special time and my grandparents and my mom always did little things to always make it special whether it was making cookies or taking a special trip. It was just always a special time of the year for our family. I wanted to make it special for my son.

“I would hate it if Brian and Hayden didn’t enjoy it because I wouldn’t get any help.”

Brandon LaChance is a journalist with The Paper. He can be contacted at (815) 876-7941, blachance20, or on Twitter @LaChanceWriter.