for the Cedar County News
HARTINGTON — When Terry Hagen first moved to his rural Hartington home 10 years ago, he was content with putting up traditional Christmas lights around the frame of his house and leaving it at that.
But that was before he experienced his first Christmas living next door to Karen and Dan Thoene.
“I thought, ‘Wow! I need to stop decorating or step it up,’” he said, after witnessing their incredible Christmas light display from his own windows.
Hagen’s not one to call it quits so he decided to step it up — in a big way.
A spectacular light display can be seen from Hwy 57 about five miles north of Hartington. Hagen and Karen Thoene put on light displays, each impressive on its own, but together is quite a spectacle at 888th Road.
Millions of lights in red, white, blue, green and every color in between shine from their homes, trees fence lines and outbuildings.
Lights are configured into the shapes of wreaths, sleighs, angels, trains, reindeer and poinsettias. There’s illuminated snowmen, snowflakes and Santas, candy canes and peppermint disc fence posts, and Nativity scenes with the Star of Bethlehem radiating bright above.
Christmas carols can be heard from the road while driving by and there’s even a spot for kids to pick up a candy cane treat from fully stocked jars.
Unfortunately, Wednesday’s blizzard damaged much of the lights and décor on display. But both Thoene and Hagen hope to clean up, repair and keep some of the display up until Jan. 5. Their homes are usually lit from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. each night.
Both Thoene and Hagen said driving around looking at lights at Christmas time was a tradition in their families and what spurred them to start their own displays.
“When my kids were little – back in the ‘80s – we would drive around and look at houses all lit up. I always thought someday I’m going to do that,” Thoene said.
Thoene’s display started with a nativity scene. And she fondly recalls a Christmas star made from broomsticks in those early years.
Both Thoene and Hagen said their Christmas displays have grown gradually over the years. Some décor has been given to them while others have been picked up at auctions or garage sales.
Many pieces have memories attached.
Thoene recalls an especially windy Christmas Day four years ago. The Santa and reindeer that sit atop her roof flew right off and landed in the lawn without breaking.
Both Thoene and Hagen try to switch up their displays every year by either adding a piece or changing placement. This year, Thoene fittingly added face masks to some of her lighted Santas on display.
The displays have grown so large that Thoene starts preparing and putting hers up around Halloween with some lights individually taped into place. Hagen starts a little later – around Thanksgiving.
As the years go by and they grow older, it gets more and more difficult each year to get the job done. Family members have helped off and on over the years, but most of the work comes down to Thoene and Hagen individually.
Positive feedback fuels them to continue each year.
“It’s just not Christmas without doing it,” Thoene said. “I just felt like I needed to put some Christmas spirit in people.”
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