For most of the year, Mike and Karen Siler are busy with their Elmwood Township stump-grinding business. (This is northern Michigan, after all.) But when December rolls around, they’re ALL about Christmas.
The Silers’ home on Carter Road is one of the must-see stops on anybody’s tour of local Christmas light displays: a cornucopia of multicolored holiday illumination so extensive that it covers at least an acre. In fact, there are so many lights that you can catch the glow as soon as you head up the hill from M-22.
Mike cheerfully admits that his passion for improving and enlarging the Christmas display is a kind of addiction that his wife views with good-natured toleration. For the rest of us, of course, it’s a wonderful gift of the season.
Viewing the annual holiday displays around local homes and businesses has become one of the highlights of the Christmas season in Traverse City – especially on weekends when families head out in their cars to look at the lights. (Or to tour the magical night streets by bicycle, as the Norte! cycling group will do on Dec. 21.)
One of the best displays is out at Dave Mikowski’s place on Kimberly Lane in Long Lake Township; he’s hooked up thousands of lights and choreographed them by computer to blink and flicker in time to a 50-minute loop of holiday tunes. (You can listen to the music, too – by simply tuning your car radio to 99.5 FM when you’re in the neighborhood.)
The Mikowskis have a lot of lights up already, but don’t expect to have the full show up and running until Friday night. In the meantime, you can track their progress by going to their Facebook page, "Christmas on Kimberly Lane" which includes driving directions and an interactive map.
Mikowski was bitten by the Christmas-light bug six years ago when he was working as a port crane operator in Anchorage, Alaska – a place that knows a lot about long dark winter nights. He put up his first Traverse City display in 2014, and was shocked at how quickly people found out about it. On some nights there would be 30 cars at a time coming up Kimberly Lane. Last winter, he estimated there were 15,000 individual bulbs in his display.
If you don’t want to drive all the way out to Long Lake, you can amble over to 143 E. 9th St. (near Cass, just south of the Old Town Playhouse) where Dave’s brother, Rob Mikowski, has a Christmas display of his own. Rob has his own Facebook page, "Tis the Season to be Merry." (Again, the music is on 99.5 FM during full shows.)
Some of the best Christmas lights in the region are tucked away in Traverse City's many alleyways. One of the most resplendent is the two-block stretch of alley between Tenth and Eleventh Streets near Pine Street, dubbed "Christmas Alley" because of the blaze of multicolored lights that surrounds it on December nights. Take time to peek into other alleys, though, because the custom is spreading; there are places in the alleyway between Eighth and Ninth Streets that look especially festive, too.
Another amazing display is at the Paul Sparks home at 1953 Oak Dr., just off Four Mile Road. Here again, there’s so much lighting that you can see (and hear) the holiday display from the highway, just a block to the north. The Sparks have decided to pursue a different niche in the Christmas lighting world: illuminated plastic figurines of various kinds: Santas, reindeer, elves, and others – complete with music and actual videos projected outside through the windows of their home. Paul has even put up a YouTube page where would-be sightseers can check things out ahead of time.