The nightly routine at Joe and Dena Blakely's home is a bit different than most households.
Once the sun sets, the couple pack on their winter coats and take a leisurely walk around their front yard. While the stroll may be brisk, it is an important key to taking care of their Christmas lights — all 25,230 of them.
For years, Joe has decorated their property in a stunningly bright display for the holidays. The reason for this commitment is simple, yet profound.
"We do it for the kids," Joe said.
"When I was growing up, our family didn't have the money to put up Christmas lights," he continued. "Now that I can do it, I decorate every year just so kids can drive by with their families and smile."
The smile on passing children's faces are no doubt as bright as Joe and Dena's yard.
The display, located just north of Kliever, is painstakingly planned by Joe.
"I have Excel spreadsheets I use to organize the lights and keep track of what I have up," Joe said.
The organization certainly doesn't end on his computer. Every light in his yard is strategically placed in an artistic flow that not only makes sense to the eye, but the decoration itself. Trees are lined in a white grove in one area, reindeer play together with Santa in another, and a lighted path connects all the characters in the Blakely's yard for an easy and cheery walk.
"You can blame my OCD on my engineering background," Joe said.
Dena may not dive as deep into the light display as her husband does, but that doesn't mean she is opposed to Christmas. In fact, she has her own space to make festive.
"The inside of the house is mine," Dena emphasized. "I collect a lot of snowmen, too. The basement is filled with them, not to mention the rest of the house."
The cost of the operation is not a factor when it comes to this family.
"It's really just like running your air conditioner in the summer," Dena said.
"The way I justify it is, I can take my family out for dinner and pay the same as my December light bill," Joe said. "It's really the best comparison."
While the Lena, Illinois, natives begin their decorating endeavor each Thanksgiving, Joe said they are never done until Dec. 25.
"Just today, I bought 600 more lights," Joe said.
All their dedication has earned them the winning spot with the Annual Christmas Lighting/Decorating Contest a few times in the past few years.
"We won 50 bucks one year; but we never keep the money," Joe said. "All the money, every penny we get, goes right back to charity."
"That charity is always St. Jude," Dena said.
Despite the notoriety, the money and whatever else may come from he display, Joe keeps his tradition alive for one reason.
"It's all for the kids," Joe said. "People will slow down at night, when we're in bed," he said. "And I know they're slowing down to look at the lights.
"We may not be able to see their faces or smiles, but just knowing is good enough."