For nearly 15 years, a Milford resident has been drawing people near and far to his home with a mesmerizing display of lights, cutouts and holiday inflatables.
Jeff Van Winkler, 57, said people have come as far as Albany to view his hard work.
The house on Grove Street is hard to miss. Crafted by Van Winkler himself, cutouts of smiling animals, snowflakes and cartoons like the Grinch and the Mayor of Halloween Town from The Nightmare Before Christmas greet onlookers.
Twinkling lights hang from trees and two snow people can be seen aiming blow dryers at each other. This “Snow-K Corral” fight is a nod to the O.K. Corral gunfight of 1881, he said.
“Every year I try to paint something new,” he said.
Van Winkler said he starts setting up decorations the day after Halloween. On Friday, Dec. 20, the yard was nearly saturated with holiday decorations, but Van Winkler said he had more to do still. Dressed in a festive sweater and a hat adorned with tree lights, Van Winkler’s appearance matches his cheery demeanor.
However, he said the holidays didn’t always used to bring him such joy. His father, Fred Van Winkler, mother Beverly Van Winkler, best friend Mary Hall and grandfather Steven Van Winkler all had passed away during or around Christmas and New Years time on different years. Fred passed away on Christmas Day in 2003, he said.
“The first couple of years I was very depressed, I was not happy,” Van Winkler said. “I was kind of what I want to call a Grinch. I didn’t want to do Christmas.”
However, two or three years later, he decided to channel his sorrow into something productive for the community.
“I finally decided, you know what I’m going to do it to the hilt,” Van Winkler said. “For all these people that have passed, I’m just going to put my heart and soul into it, which I do.”
Van Winkler has kept the tradition going, greatly anticipated by neighbors and community members. Over the years he’s switched over to mainly LED lights and started using application controlled light timers that he can turn on and off from inside his house.
Van Winkler’s lawn is so brightly lit that he said people have joked to him that a plane might land there.
In response, his mother-in-law bought him runway lights which he placed near the lawn’s inflatable planes and helicopters, he said.
Van Winkler said he does it for children and adults alike, and likes seeing people enjoy his creations each year.
Decorating the lawn also provides a fun way for him to exercise in the winter and avoid seasonal depression, he said.
Some decorations are more subtle. A handcrafted wreathe hangs on a tree, and every year on Christmas day, Van Winkler said he takes it to his father’s grave.
Van Winkler said his wife has been very supportive of this work. Though the work has gotten more difficult over the years as he’s grown older, he said he plans to keep decorating until he physically can’t anymore.
“I love doing what I do,” Van Winkler said. “At times I get frustrated with it and wonder why am I doing it again this year. But it’s a great outlet for me, I think it really does help in healing, I really do.”
Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.