The shop where Dan Christensen keeps his Christmas decorations is larger than his southeast Boise home.
When he slides open the garage door on the front of the building at 2200 E. Oakridge St., he reveals stacks of boxes that tower above his large frame. A homemade sleigh dominates much of the space, as do the four life-sized plywood reindeer attached to an ATV that pulls them. An entire wall of the building is lined with shelves holding boxes of thousands of candy canes that will be handed out to visitors during the holiday season.
The entire property is bathed in the glow of tens of thousands of lights, and Christmas decorations dot every inch of the house and yard. Christensen laughs when he sees cars turn onto the street and stop suddenly, awestruck looks on the drivers' faces.
"I guess I'm certifiably crazy," Christensen said. "But it's worth the joy you see on everyone's faces."
With his heavy build and bushy white beard, Christensen insists that visitors call him Santa. He gives tours of his home, where he proudly displays his 650 Santa figures, gladly pointing out his favorites to anyone who asks. To Christensen, Santa Claus embodies the Christmas spirit.
"It's giving, it's sharing, it's helping out other people," he said. "And so I started decorating houses."
Christensen used to spend the holiday season decorating homes and windows for elderly friends, but now his own display is a full-time engagement. This year's decorations took more than 70 hours to arrange. He also installed a chain-link fence and video surveillance to protect what he sees as an investment.
"We purchase anywhere from $600 to $1,000 worth of lights every year," said Christensen, who estimates he and his wife have spent at least $50,000 on their home Christmas display, including a December electric bill that climbs as high as $1,500.
But sky-high utilities are no deterrent to Christensen or any of the Treasure Valley's other over-the-top home decorators, like Justo Efrain Rodriguez, who was forced by the recession to decorate his house at Boise and Leadville avenues just two weeks before Christmas instead of the entire month of December.
"The people tell me, put a box out for donations, but I don't want to," he said.
For Rodriguez, covering the house with around 150 inflatables, wreaths and other decorations is a family tradition he shares with his wife and six children--and the memories are worth every penny. His daughter Cindy's friends at Timberline High School know her house and she often jokes about her fame among her classmates.
But the Rodriguez family's home isn't the only one that has gained notoriety. Nicholas Martinez received a post card last year from a visitor who had photographed his home on John's Landing Way off Collister Drive to show to relatives as far away as the East Coast.
"It brings up the happiness in the neighborhood," Martinez said. "People love it. They've been used to it for so many years. One lady stopped and told me she's been driving by the house for 15 years, and every year is different. So they enjoy it and they keep coming back."
To Martinez, whose display contains as many as 40,000 individual lights, the house is an artistic medium.
"Doesn't a painter plan out what he's painting before he does it? I have to figure out what I'll put here, and what I'll put there, and how many lights it'll take. It takes time and thought. I think it's a form of art," he said.
Martinez shops for his decorations at sales after the holiday season ends but like Christensen and Rodriguez, he's far more concerned with spreading Christmas spirit than with the hit to his bank account.
"If you start looking at the cost, you'll stop doing it. I get a satisfaction out of what I do. People enjoy it, so I don't feel like I've wasted my time."
Christmas Decoration Facts:
1. The daily electricity cost per strand of 100 lights for C7 bulbs is $1.08; For C9 bulbs it is $1.51; For LED lights it is $0.14.
2. On average there are 300 Christmas tree-related home fires each season.
3. 12,500 people are treated in emergency rooms each holiday season for injuries related to falls, cuts and shocks.
4. Sales of cut Christmas trees in 2009 totaled $249.8 million.
5. The value of U.S. imports of Christmas ornaments from China between January and August 2010 was $488.5 million.