A rural Cedar Grove farmhouse becomes a magical destination for Christmas lovers when Michael Ciske turns on 16,000 lights
When Michael Ciske decorates his rural Cedar Grove farmhouse for the holidays, it’s an event people drive for miles around to see.
More than 16,000 lights on the house, trees, hoops and other objects in the yard are synchronized to 30 minutes of music that includes instrumentals by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, “Amazing Grace” by Yule, “Jingle Bell Rock” by Dueling Pianos and Faith Hill’s “Where Are You Christmas?” a song his wife Jane asked him to add this year.
People within a half-mile radius of the home at 2915 Eernisse Rd. in the Town of Holland can tune to 88.5 FM to hear the music and watch the show, dubbed “Ciske’s Country Christmas Light Show.” Most people stop to watch the entire program. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra crescendos, when all lights are flashing fast, are spectacular.
“We have to tell people not to stop in the middle of the road because cars could be coming, and we don’t want an accident,” Mrs. Ciske said. “It’s a short road and there isn’t much traffic, but other people live here and we don’t want to block or inconvenience them.”
Donations are accepted for a charity. Last year, it was Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee and this year it’s St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
“We all make suggestions, talk about what we’re passionate about and vote on the charity,” Mrs. Ciske said. “The kids (son Jonah, 8, and daughter Genesis, 10) really want to help children.”
On weekends, the family offers homemade cookies and hot chocolate as an added gift. Jane and the children made 800 cookies — 200 each of sugar cookies, chocolate chip, peanut butter and peanut butter with kisses.
“I like to talk to the people and find out what they like or don’t like,” Ciske said. “We don’t give out cookies to get donations. We just want people to enjoy it, but people kept wanting to give us money last year, so we put out a mailbox for donations this year.”
This year’s display is more than twice as bright as last year’s 7,300 lights, and next year is going to be bigger yet, Ciske promised.
“I’ve already bought new control boards and four more trees. I want to add Bing Crosby and his great songs. I was always a big fan of Bing Crosby,” he said.
Ciske said it takes about 120 hours to program the show, something he works on all year. He starts putting out the decorations in October.
This year’s display has more than 6,000 feet of extension cords and three control boxes — two on the ground near the porch and one near the peak of the house. Everything is controlled from his computer, with two monitors showing the entire display.
The couple moved to the 1919 farmhouse about 10 years ago, shortly after their daughter was born.
From the start, they decorated their home inside and out. When Ciske saw light displays set to music that people posted on YouTube, he decided to try it. He bought Light-O-Rama software and one control board online. It grew from there as he added more control boxes, lights and music. The display begins Thanksgiving Day.
News of the light show spread by word of mouth, much of it from the couple’s large circle of family and friends. Ciske grew up in Belgium and his wife is from Oostburg.
Computers are a hobby for Ciske, who works in the maintenance department at Aurora Medical Center in Sheboygan.
“I taught myself at home and pick the brain of IT (information technology) people,” he said. “Whenever you rely on computers, there can be glitches.”
This year there were two.
The light display worked perfectly when Ciske tested it until Thanksgiving Day when he turned on the lights to start the season. Half of the house was dark. He crawled onto the roof, found the problem and fixed it.
Another time, the computer froze and everything went dark. He restarted the computer and the lights danced again.
Receiving donations that can be given to a charity is nice, the Ciskes said, but that’s not why they do it. They simply want people to enjoy something that fills them with joy and doesn’t cost anything.
“Christmas is my favorite time of the year for many reasons,” Mrs. Ciske said. “It’s such a magical time for children.
“I remember going with my parents and driving around to see the decorations, and I wanted to do that for others. We’re making memories for other families.”
There is still plenty of time to see the light show, which will continue through Sunday, Jan. 11. The lights are on from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
An easy way to get there is to take Highway KW in Ozaukee or Sheboygan County and go north to Eernisse Road, which is two miles north of Highway G in the Town of Holland.
Image information: Michael and Jane Ciske and their children, Genesis, 10, and Jonah, 8, offer homemade cookies and hot chocolate on weekends to people who drive by “Ciske’s Country Christmas Light Show” in rural Cedar Grove. The display will be lit through Jan. 11. Photo by Sam Arendt