Making Spirits Brighter
Caleb and Emily Otto share their love of Christmas with synchronized light and music display at their home in Sabetha.
A family decorating their house and fence line with thousands of lights. A Christmas Eve dinner by candlelight, surrounded by family. For Caleb and Emily Otto, lights have always been a big part of their family Christmas traditions — and they are continuing the tradition with their three daughters — Lillie, Ellie and Annie.
For the past few years, the Ottos have lined their house at 121 South 16th Street in Sabetha with lights and yard decorations. What makes their display different is that the lights are animated — they “dance” along with Christmas tunes playing on the 107.3 FM radio station when you are nearby.
Let there be lights
Caleb, who is a project engineer at NorthWind Technical Services, used his programming knowledge to synchronize the lights to music, making for a dazzling holiday light show.
“It’s not the same type of programming, but knowing how to program in general helped,” Caleb said. “Also, setting up the different communication protocols came from my learning at work.”
The Ottos began putting up lights the first week of December and will leave them up until a little while after New Year’s, depending on the weather. Though it takes about three days for all of the lights to be hung, it takes months of preparation.
“A lot of the time comes from coming up with an idea in your head and listening to the song, then setting up and programming the lights to do what your idea was for the song — picking out the sounds that you hear or beat and what you want to do with it for the display,” Caleb said.
The display includes an inflatable Olaf snowman and penguin, a rooftop snowman, five lighted reindeer, four Christmas trees and new this year — a 15-foot mega tree. All of these features “dance” to the beat of 30 minutes of Christmas songs.
“We have heard people say they didn’t know how long they could stay and watch, so they only stayed a few minutes,” Caleb said. “Feel free to watch as long as you are enjoying the show!”
The Ottos estimate at least five to 10 cars per night drive by to enjoy their lights.
“We think it’s really cool how Caleb and Emily share their love of Christmas with the whole community through music and light,” said Marlene Bosworth, an owner of NorthWind Technical Services. “We hope everyone goes to see the Ottos’ amazing display. It is certain to brighten your Christmas spirit.”
Marlene said she and her husband Mike are very happy to have Caleb on staff.
“His whole family is very special to us — what a great example they are in our community,” she said.
For Caleb and Emily, their greatest hope is that people will feel enjoyment when they watch the light display with their families.
Caleb was the youngest in his family and enjoying Christmas lights was part of their annual traditions. He and his older sister and older brother all helped their parents put up decorations on the inside and outside of their country home in Stafford, a small town about 90 miles northwest of Wichita.
“We would add each year two or more strands of lights to a fence line in front of our house,” he said. “We would say some day it would be 1/4 mile long, but never made it with the old style C9s.”
Caleb’s family had to break up the lights into several circuits, but he thinks his parents were tired of paying the high electric bill so their lighting display ended once Caleb went to college.
In South Hutchinson where Emily grew up, her family also celebrated Christmas with lights.
“On Christmas Eve, we had a big dinner, eating by candle light,” Emily said.
Early Christmas morning, her family opened presents from Santa and every year they had a silly string fight in the house.
Decorating for Christmas was a tradition she enjoyed with her older brother and younger sister and brother. The four siblings would help their grandparents decorate their tree. At their own home, they all worked together to put up lights and decorations both inside and outside.
“Most years, we had a real tree, until I was in high school. Then, we put up a fake tree with our homemade ornaments,” she said.
Decorating continues to be a family affair for the Ottos, as their young daughters are already involved in helping set up their parents’ light display.
“Lillie and Ellie helped hand Caleb the poles that go in the ground for the driveway lights,” Emily said. “Annie helped pull the extension cords out of the box.”
The Otto girls love Christmas. Lillie’s favorite decoration is the Olaf snowman in the front yard. Ellie loves Christmas dresses, and Annie loves taking ornaments off the tree in the house.
About the Ottos
Emily is a stay-at-home mom for their three daughters — ages 5, 2 and 1. The Otto family moved to Sabetha in 2011.
At a Christmas in July contest at Indian Caves campground, the Ottos won first place for their light display.
“We took up some of the lights and most of the decorations,” Caleb said. “We ended up having people call friends and families from near towns around the state park and had people showing up after 11 p.m.”
The Ottos won the Light Up Sabetha contest this year. This is their second year winning first place in the contest.
Krista Wasinger66 Posts
Krista Wasinger is Co-Editor of The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2011. She specializes in city reporting and feature stories, as well as photography and page and advertising design. Krista is a 2004 Fort Hays State University graduate with a degree in communications studies with an emphasis in journalism. She lives in Sabetha with her husband and four children.