By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
If you’ve been through the Gubser Miracle of Christmas Lights Display in the last 25 years, odds are you’ve seen the decorations at the Naegeli house.
Not to mention the Halloween decorations.
And the Valentine’s Day setup.
Oh yeah, there’s also the Easter display.
Yes, Harlan and Barbara Naegeli like to decorate their home at the corner of McLeod Lane and Rock Ledge Drive for various holidays.
For Christmas time, the couple goes all out – and in.
While the outside display is impressive in its own right – award-winning, in fact – the theme is continued inside, as Christmas decorations are everywhere.
If there was room, there would be even more.
Barbara and Harlan came to Christmas decorating from opposite perspectives. Barbara split her childhood between America and England, where the focus is on the inside of the house. Harlan, on the other hand, grew up in Silverton with plenty of outside decorations but nothing on the inside.
“In England we didn’t do outside lights,” Barbara said. “We met one October. Then he came to my house the beginning of December and walked in. It was interesting for him to see all the decorations inside. I say our kids got the best of both worlds. We did Christmas crackers and paper crowns. It took Harlan a while to warm up.”
Harlan flashed a quick smile.
“It’s been 44 years and I’m still warming up,” he quipped.
The two met in Salem and married barely a year later. After living in West Salem for nearly 20 years, the couple built their home in Gubser and moved in 25 years ago.
Early on, a friendly competition started between the Naegelis and the neighbors across the street, Dennis and Mildred O’Shea.
“Dennis didn’t have that many lights at first,” Harlan said. “I would put something up, then he would have to put something up. That first year was interesting. The light tour was in the older part of the neighborhood. This part was not part of the tour. The road was barricaded off. We had a little protest, standing at the barricade. We were part of the tour the next year.”
Barbara credits the O’Sheas for elevating the game.
“Their windows are painted,” Barbara said. “That was a one-up move. I said, ‘Millie, that’s not fair.’ She just smirked at me.”
While the Naegelis have been doing their decorations for years, don’t take that to mean it’s the same each year. Some new pieces and features have been added regularly, while some parts need to be replaced or don’t get put out due to a lack of room.
“It’s started and has grown each year,” said Barbara, noting her daughters-in-law have complained about the bar being set too high. “Not everybody does quite so much, or at least that’s what I’ve heard. I can’t put everything out. I have a lot of stuff. I let friends go through a pile of stuff I don’t use.”
Since they are both in their 60s, things have been scaled back somewhat. For example, Harlan no longer puts lights on the roof. Son Andrew used to do that task, but not anymore.
“When he had a child, his wife didn’t want him to do it anymore,” Barbara said. “I understood. I couldn’t watch anymore.”
Though not as much gets put up, that doesn’t mean purchases aren’t made. After all, lights wear or burn out, new technology is more energy efficient and so on.
“He’s on timeout from Lowe’s,” Barbara said, smiling at Harlan. “He’s not allowed to go there by himself anymore.”
Harlan acknowledges having more items than space.
“You get to a certain point where you’ve put enough up and pack the rest of it away,” he said.
Barbara admitted not putting every decoration up is hard.
“If we could, we would put things up everywhere,” she said. “We can’t fit it all out there. We’ll do this item this year, then this thing will go up next year. Everything has meaning to me.”
It’s not unusual for people to get in the Christmas mood when seeing the Naegeli home. Heck, it even happens to Barbara.
“The outside is wonderful,” she said. “I love driving home at night and seeing the lights. It makes me happy. I’ll watch dads and moms walk their kids by the house. They stop and take pictures. I think it’s lovely.”
Barbara calls the manger scene her favorite part of the outdoor decorations, while Harlan enjoys everything.
The two have had to compromise over the years. For example, fishing and car ornaments are no longer on the tree, a compromise Harlan had to make. On the other hand, Barbara quit putting up streamers about 15 years ago.
Lest you be worried the family tradition will end with Harlan and Barbara, both of their sons still live in town and carry on the decorating tradition. The next generation has gotten into the act as well, both for Christmas and Halloween decorating. Grandchildren, ranging from 9 year old Sara to 3 year old Layne, help grandpa with the pirate ship at Halloween. Layne got to also help out with the Christmas decorations this year.
“They all help build the ship,” Barbara said. “Layne hauls the big plastic Mary out for the manger scene and puts out every candy cane. That’s why it is so much fun. I’ll watch from the window. Plus they’ll help me do the tree inside.”
Harlan said putting up the Christmas decorations can take two or three days, depending on the weather. Things were late in getting up this year due to all of the recent rain. But once things are in place and the compliments start rolling in, that warms Harlan’s heart.
“That makes all the effort worth it,” he said.
Barbara said the utility bill jumps about $125 in December due to the lights. They got help with the bill once.
“One year we won $50 from the Keizer Chamber for having the best looking house,” she said. “We didn’t even know there was a contest.”
Like Harlan, Barbara loves the reaction from others.
“Our neighbors seem to really like it,” she said. “Or they think we’re crazy. It could be that, too.”