by Megan Graham
The Poulimas home, an impressive monument of log wood, would not look out of place on the North Pole.
That’s especially true for one room — the Christmas room — with red carpeting, red electrical sockets, red light switches and evergreen-painted walls.
Newspaper clippings about the home hung on those walls, along with a painting of Michael and Janet Poulimas that a neighbor made and snuck under their tree in the middle of the night. Michael, a “computer guy” with a brown mop of hair, dressed as Santa, and Janet, a petite blond nurse, as his Mrs. Claus. When the season has passed, this is where the animatronic angels, boughs of sparkly garland and four Christmas trees will be stowed.
“And then we’ll get a 12-footer,” Michael said.
“We’ll get a real one,” Janet adds.
Then, most obviously, there’s the exterior of that big brown house — the beautiful mess of 114,000 lights which twinkle, flash, beam or glide. Sometimes frantically. Sometimes languidly. Sometimes taking turns. Sometimes at once. It’s like the illuminated Vegas strip but with Santa Clauses and penguins and dancing bears. The contrast provided by the deep rural dark of Sharpsville highlights the brightness.
The house drew 8,000 visitors last year. Michael and Janet gave candy canes to each one. On weekend nights, when the guests drive in lines of 40 cars from Brownsburg, Muncie or Mooresville, the two greet vehicles for five or six hours.
“It’s fun to see where people came from, how far they drove,” Janet added.
Visitors turn their car radios to channel 99.1 and listen to the songs Michael broadcasts from a shortwave radio set up in their bedroom. On some of these songs, he has added voices and audio clips to create “feature songs.” This year’s is Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All,” which he mixed with audio of children spouting Christmastime wisdom.
In the beginning of the song, Janet’s voice says, “Last year at our display, a little girl sat on Santa’s lap, when Santa asked ...”
A jolly Santa voice interjects: “What do you want for Christmas, young lady?”
Janet continues: “The little girl replied ...”
“I want my family to be together,” says a little girl’s voice.
“We were so touched by this request that we dedicate the following song to all the young children,” replies Janet. “As adults, we should remember that time spent with family is a child’s most treasured gift.”
The show is free, as are the coffee, hot chocolate and treats given to onlookers by the Sharpsville United Methodist Church on certain nights, but the couple collects donations for Kokomo’s We Care charity and for Jubilee Christmas of Tipton. Michael estimates they’ve raised nearly $18,000 for the organizations since they began doing this in 2008.
“It kind of goes 365 days a year,” Michael said.
Once the season is through, Michael and Janet will spend five to six weeks taking the display down. In March, they’ll start brainstorming new display items for the following year. This year, for instance, they added 70 white crosses to honor local veterans. In Summer, they’ll construct those display items in a garage out back. In October, they begin construction all over again.
“How many man hours? I don’t know,” Michael said. “A lot.”
“We’ve never sat down and figured it out,” Janet said.
The bulk of time is likely spent in the particulars: the planning of each one-tenth of one second of the 45-minute light show. For each five seconds of song, Michael spends roughly half an hour deciding which lights are on and which are off, creating patterns and simulated movement. He has a spreadsheet with 352 different lines, each representing one of the 352 computer circuits controlled by the 22 computers in the yard, which decide at any particular one-tenth of one second whether the giant Santa has his mouth open or closed or whether the penguin is illuminated or whether the lights lining the spine of the rooftop are red or green or blue.
“It’s like writing music,” he said.
It’s also a lot of work, undoubtedly, but Michael and Janet say it just feels right.
“It’s kind of like, we’re from the big city, we come out here, and it’s different out here,” Michael said. “This is our gift to the community, is what it is.”
Megan Graham is the Kokomo Tribune business reporter. She can be reached by phone at 765-454-8570 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.