December 27, 2021 at 3:29 p.m.
“My dad always used to decorate the house; he had the kind of passion for Christmas, and then my brothers and I started helping him,” Bill Ciolkosz said. “We had a family of 10 kids, and Christmas was always a big deal.”
Bill and Bridget Ciolkosz and their children, Carley, 19, Bryce, 17, Blake, 14, and Hailey, 11, are the fourth and fifth generation of the Ciolkosz family to operate the farm since 1903. That is when Ciolkosz’s great-grandfather purchased the land from the lumber company and set to work clearing it, beginning the family tradition of dairy farming.
Ciolkosz purchased the farm from his father in 2003 and slowly began growing the scope of the Christmas decorating. He estimates there are somewhere between 60 and 70 thousand lights twinkling around the farm.
“For about the last 15 years or so, we have been decorating the farm,” Ciolkosz said. “We add a little more every year. We get a little carried away. We put lights on the barn, around the manure pit … anything that stands still and maybe some stuff that doesn’t.”
The decorating does not end at the front door. Inside the house, the family celebrates with two Christmas trees and Bridget’s collection of Nativity scenes numbering well over 100.
Ciolkosz said he is blessed his children have taken an interest in helping spearhead the decorating, making it a true family affair in more recent years. Spurred on by his boys, the Ciolkoszes began decorating the large pine trees in their yard a couple years ago.
Besides decorating the trees in the yard, the Ciolkoszes string lights on the front of their milking parlor and on their old tiestall barn and machine shed; they light a path from their house to the barn. There are several Nativity scenes scattered around the farm. On the fence around the manure pit, they spell out the greeting, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”
As the years pass, Ciolkosz tries new things to keep the display easier to complete.
“The words on the manure pit were always a chore and used to take anywhere from four to six hours,” Ciolkosz said. “I would zip-tie the rope lights to the fence, spelling out the words. More than once, I would find I misspelled something or made a letter backwards and would have to take off the zip ties and try again.”
Last winter, the farm’s A.I. technician suggested to form the letters from rebar.
“I was able to zip-tie the rope lights to the rebar, and they went up really quick,” Ciolkosz said. “Then we just took them down, stored them that way, and this year just hung them right back up.”
The technician also made a rebar tree and star that the Ciolkoszes added to their front yard.
Storing the outdoor Christmas decorations takes up nearly half of the farmhouse’s basement, and Ciolkosz said that before they begin the actual task of decorating, a lot of time is spent in the basement making sure all the strands of lights work.
“The kids like to decorate, and that is keeping the tradition alive,” Ciolkosz said. “The boys really enjoy it, and they have been learning a lot about electrical circuits and how electricity works.”
As their farm has grown, Ciolkosz said finding the time to decorate is sometimes difficult but is a priority for the family.
“Sometimes we all get stuck doing more farm work than decorating,” Ciolkosz said. “In early November, we are finishing up harvesting, then comes deer hunting; we typically start decorating right after deer hunting.”
Ciolkosz is not a fan of the vast commercialization of Christmas and dislikes how stores seem to try and push Christmas earlier each year.
“You’ll see Christmas lights and hear Christmas music before Thanksgiving, but then the day after Christmas, suddenly there are no more lights and there is no more music,” Ciolkosz said.
Ciolkosz does not turn his lights on until the second week of December and keeps them on through the second week of January.
“That is another family tradition we like to keep, honoring Three Kings Day,” Ciolkosz said. “You need to celebrate Christmas when it really is.”
While decorating the farm plays into the family’s own Christmas traditions, the Ciolkoszes have also learned about the role their holiday cheer plays in others’ celebrations within their community.
“There are so many people that come out and look at the lights, and it is neat, because I never realized that we are a part of their Christmas traditions,” Ciolkosz said. “People have told us it is their Christmas Eve tradition to come see our lights after going to church, and then while they are gone, Santa will visit their house.”
Ciolkosz said people often ask about the impact of the lights on the farm’s electric bill. He said he does see a significant increase, but the enjoyment he derives from the lights is worth every penny.
“I just enjoy Christmas and the lights,” Ciolkosz said. “It is fun, and after deer hunting, it is so dark. You are used to so much life on the farm, and the lights help make it feel more peaceful and not quite so dark.”
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