All Decked Out

by | Dec 2014

Photo: Tate Carlson

Three local homeowners brighten up the holiday season with shimmering light displays.

’Tis the season for twinkle lights!

If you’re getting ready to deck the halls for the holidays, we’ve rounded up some inspiring White Bear Lake-area homes that take Christmas lighting traditions to the max. We talked with three homeowners to learn about bulb count, tree toppers and their, ahem, bright ways of sharing the spirit of the season.

Light Up the Night

Move over, Clark Griswold. John Cretzmeyer strings up over 150,000 lights every year at his White Bear Lake home—and, he admits, has come pretty darn close to shutting down the neighborhood’s power grid. “One year, we’d just done a remodel [on the house] and added a bunch of lights,” he remembers. “We wondered, will we have enough power to run all the outside lights and our appliances in the kitchen?”

When they tested the circuits, “everything went black. Everything,” says Cretzmeyer with a laugh. “We thought we’d taken out the neighborhood.” When the power company’s repairmen arrived, they couldn’t contain their laughter. “They were shouting, ‘Holy mackerel…I think it’s a new record!’”

All joking aside, Cretzmeyer’s light display is a thing of beauty. “We decorate all the deciduous trees, the fir trees, the fences, the house, the garage—if it’s there, we can decorate it,” he says. Cretzmeyer and his wife Barb Jacobson have lived in their stately home on the lake, which used to belong to the Norwegian consulate, since 1981. “We started with something simple, just decorating a tree or two, and every year it got a little bigger.” The biggest change, says Cretzmeyer, came when he replaced all of his old-fashioned twinkle lights with energy-efficient LED bulbs. “It dropped the power consumption by two-thirds,” he explains. “It simplified things greatly. It’s an old Victorian house, with four-story towers and steep roofs. So that’s the challenge—to do all of this without ladder trucks. It’s climbing with harnesses and ropes, and [done by] daredevils.”

Cretzmeyer, a dentist, and Jacobsen, whose family owns and operates Pine Tree Apple Orchard, see the Christmas light display as a way to give back to the community they love. “We have a great group of neighbors,” says Cretzmeyer. “We do walk-around parties and lots of holiday get-togethers. [Barb and I] come from large families and tend to entertain during the holiday season.” And what’s Cretzmeyer’s favorite feature of his sparkling scene? “We always do something special with the tree in the center of the circular driveway; it’s pretty spectacular.”

Back to Nature

An enchanted forest right here in Dellwood? Reid Smith has created one on his patio—an unlikely but perfect spot for his stunning light display. Smith, who moved to his contemporary house in 1998, started with some typical decorations. And then, thanks to a newfound passion for gardening, he had a eureka moment. “I started adding some trees outside,” he says. “Outside the sliding-glass patio doors, I stake up several eight- or nine-foot trees and decorate those in white lights.” Around the rest of the patio and yard, Smith adds 25 potted spruce trees, all decked in white lights and dogwood branches. He works on the scene himself, hauling in the trees and spruce pots over the course of several weeks, following the weather.

“What makes it kind of magical is that I also have trees indoors, on the other side of the patio,” he says. “In the evening, all the lights reflect off of the glass. You start looking around, and you cannot tell which trees are outside and which trees are inside.” The indoor trees are decorated with white lights to match the ones outside, and surrounded by a sea of red poinsettias. Smith, a piano teacher, loves hosting holiday recitals in his tranquil space. “I have a Steinway piano downstairs,” he says, “so I have holiday concerts and parties. People come in and are enveloped in this wonderland of lights—everyone feels like it’s some other world they’ve come into.”

Without realizing it, Smith has also created a haven for wildlife on his enchanted patio. “It becomes a protected area for birds,” he says. “So I have a heated birdbath there. And in the evening, deer and possum and fox will come up because they want to have a drink at the birdbath.”

For Smith, holiday decorating has always been about the natural world. Growing up in rural North Carolina, he and his family had great fun hiking through the woods to gather trees, boughs and berries to adorn their home for Christmas. “We’d have bundles of mistletoe and piles of holly,” he remembers. “I think that’s where my passion came from. We just went down to the woods and collected this abundance of beautiful, fresh decorations.”

Smith leaves his outdoor decorations up until February or March, taking advantage of Minnesota’s long winters. “After living in North Carolina where we had such short winters, I find that having all of that color and light is a nice thing all winter.”

From the Inside Out

In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it can be easy to forget the things that really matter. “When your kids are growing up, you don’t want them to think that Christmas is all about Santa and presents,” says White Bear Lake mom of three Lynne Berwald. “My own mom always taught me that it’s more about what’s on the inside than on the outside. So I wanted my house to be like that at Christmas.”

The Berwalds decorate their home with approximately 10 Christmas trees—one for almost every room. “We started with one tree in the living room, and as our family grew and memories grew, we just kept adding trees. Each tree has some significance,” says Berwald. For example, one tree has a musical theme with music-note ornaments and jingle bells the family has collected over the years at Lorie Line’s holiday concerts. The Berwalds also decorate a special tree in honor of a dear friend. “My kids used to do a lot of volunteer work with senior citizens,” Berwald explains. “We had a senior friend, Audrey, with cancer, who could no longer put up her Christmas tree.” The family helped Audrey decorate for several years, and adopted her tree when Audrey passed away. “It’s the Audrey Tree,” says Berwald. “It’s still her tree, and it goes up every year because she’s never to be forgotten.”

Berwald’s kids also get to choose a theme for the Christmas trees in their bedrooms. Her daughters, 20 and 18, have done animal themes and bright peacock colors in past years, and her son, 13, often chooses a hunting and fishing theme. “His tree has deer antlers as the topper, and all the ornaments are outdoorsy,” says Berwald.

The Berwalds have lived in their 1960 rambler for 21 years, and they’ve turned the house into a welcoming space during the holidays—for human and animal guests, alike. “In past years, we’ve had a tree on the deck, and the kids would take pinecones and roll them in peanut butter and birdseed,” says Berwald. “And we’d dry apples and oranges, and string cranberries, and feed the birds from the tree.”

For Lynne Berwald, the Christmas trees are a tangible reminder of past Christmas memories and family values. “My joy is in knowing that, someday when I’m long gone, my kids will be laughing about it around the kitchen table. Maybe they’ll do some of the same [Christmas traditions] that I did with them.”


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