Niagara Gazette

December 31, 2012

Express Yourself: Holiday decorations bring out the artist within

Special to the Gazette
Courtesy of The Pampered Chef

Niagara Gazette — One woman’s holiday project was inspired by the desire to throw a “yarn bomb.” Another’s Christmas display has grown more complex with each year, largely to entertain her grand children. And then there’s the computer programmer who spent all of the past year programming his first-ever front lawn light and music show.

While some take a simple route to holiday decorations, throwing a few lights up here and there, there seems to be one in every crowd who takes seasonal decorating to a new level. Sometimes more than one.

For many of those who just can’t seem to stop themselves, the projects typically start out fairly simple, but then seem to grow into what family, friends and neighbors can’t wait to stop over and see.  

When Sandie Bax of North Tonawanda started her Chirstmas village thirty years ago she didn’t imagine that it would eventually take several days to set up each year and that her collections of holiday figures and her lighted, moving little Christmas village, set out on a handful of long tables, would take over whole sections of her house.

And it’s not like she’s got the biggest display ever. She had a friend whose display was once three times bigger. But, Bax’s display, especially the dancers and skaters and Elvis’s Graceland, inspires friends to visit with their own grandchildren, as if her home was an itsty bitsy festival of lights. “I like to decorate the house,” she says simply when asked about her handiwork. “And my grandkids love it.”

Meanwhile, Chris Bakula of Wheatfield, hadn’t decorated the outside of his home for the past nine years. But right around Chirstmas of last year, he somehow got inspired to create a holiday display at his Jennifer Circle home unlike any his wife and four kids had ever seen.

Throughout this past year, he filled the famiy den with reams of twinkling lights and spent an estimated 30 hours a month figuring out a computer program that would bring his front yard to life. At the push of a button, seven holiday blowup figures fill with air and a 20 foot tree in the center of the design responds to 30 programmed songs while 10,000 blinking lights that appear to chase each other around the yard display.

While his family is pretty happy he’s finally gotten back into the spirit of Christmas, he’s already planning next year’s light show, when he hopes to double the amount of lights. “It’s going to be bigger and better next year,” he promises.

And yet, when it comes to the holidays, bigger isn’t always better.  Some people might walk by Lis Slenk’s house at 653 Main St. and completely miss her very first  “yarn bomb” out front.

But, because some people pay careful attention to the things around them, Slenk’s holiday production has been stopping more than a few pedestrians in their tracks.

Slenk recently began knitting again, a hobby she remembers starting at age 6 when she helped to make socks for the soldiers in World War II.

She joined a knitters group at the Lewiston Library and pretty quickly learned about “yarn bombing,” sometimes called “guerrilla knitting.” A quick check on the Internet yielded lots of photos of object completely covered in yarn, from army tanks, to statues to cars wrapped lovingly in colorful swatches of yarn by “guerrilla” knitters.

Slenk, who had recently began knitting again — a hobby she remembers starting at age 6 when she helped to make socks for the soldiers in World War II — threw her first yarn bomb, swaddling the tree in front of her home with color. Then she placed some ornaments on its branches, in keeping with the spirit of the holidays.

“It’s cool,” she said of her tree. “I watch people go by who don’t even notice it. But, this morning I saw a woman stop and very tenderly put her hand out and touch it. Then I saw a very young woman stop, whip out her cell phone and take a picture.”

Liz plans to keep the tree yarn bombed for as long as she can, perhaps hoping to inspire other would-be yarn bombers, and to share the joy of the season throughout the year. “I’m just going to leave it up and see what happens,” she smiled.