Growing up, Jeff Keener’s family would decorate their house for the holidays like many people do.
But the real highlight for him was when his father would take him to see the Christmas lights displays throughout the area.
“That just sort of got me going,” he said.
And by “going,” he means embracing the holiday spirit.
But instead of going out to catch local lights displays elsewhere, Keener has turned the tables. Every year during the holiday season, he and his wife Candice Keener transform their Bothell home — which is about four miles away from the where he grew up in Kirkland — into a winter wonderland that attracts people from the community.
This is about the 10th year of the Keener’s Christmas lights display that the Keeners have gone all out and they show no signs of stopping. In fact, it is the opposite.
“It gets bigger and bigger every year,” Jeff said about their holiday lights display.
Jeff has been collecting Christmas- and holiday-related decorations since he was a kid. One of his first decorations was a snowman display his mother gave him at the age of 12.
“We have a whole separate shed just for all the Christmas stuff…I’ve always just loved Christmas,” he said, adding that the inside of their house is just as overflowing with holiday cheer but they only allow people to view the decorations on the outer part of their home.
“It’s gotten pretty out of hand,” Jeff admits.
There are more than 100,000 lights in their display, though they don’t have an exact count. Candice said once you reach a certain point, you just stop counting.
In addition, the Keeners have divided their display into “lands” like Disneyland. Their themes include Santas, deer and cartoon characters, to name a few.
But as out of hand things have gotten, he said they are also lucky as they are their “own little island” and only have one neighbor across the road. In addition, Jeff said they don’t have music, although they do have a radio station that visitors can tune into in their cars.
With so much to put up and to have it all ready after Thanksgiving, he said they usually begin decorating in September as it takes them about two months to complete the task. And for the most part, Jeff said it is pretty much just him and Candice doing the work. Although, they do get offers of help every year, which came in handy last year as Jeff had broken his ankle and wasn’t at his most mobile.
“We always try to add new stuff,” Candice said, adding that there is also always something that needs repairs — not just from one year to the other, but on a day-to-day basis.
In addition to hands-on help, Jeff said people have offered them financial assistance to help them with their electricity bills. The display typically costs them an additional $1,000 each year.
While the Keeners have refused money for themselves, this is the sixth year they are collecting donations for local nonprofits.
They are collecting financial donations for Strong Against Cancer, an initiative focused on cancer immunotherapy that was inspired by by discoveries at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research at Seattle Children’s.
The Keeners initially raised money for the Ben Towne Foundation, which was an organization that had a similar mission as SAC and was named for a young boy who died of cancer. Jeff — who lost his parents to cancer — said he ran into Ben’s father at their 20th high school reunion and after they got to talking, he came up with the idea to use their lights display as a way to raise money for a great cause.
In the five years that they have been collecting donations, Jeff said they have raised almost $60,000 for childhood cancer.
In addition to financial donations, the Keeners have also held a food drive in conjunction with their lights display, with donations going to the Hopelink food bank in Kirkland. They collect non-perishable food items and in the five years so far, Jeff said they have collected almost 4,000 pounds of food.
In all the years that they have been collecting donations, the Keeners have made note of everything they received and have a ledger board tracking the funds they receive daily.
Jeff credits Candice as the brain power behind the operation.
“She’s very organized,” he said, adding that when they first met, all of his lights and decorations were just in trash bags.
And as much work as it takes, from the two months prior to put everything up and the month to tear it all down afterwards, to the work it takes to keep track of the donations they receive, Jeff said he likes seeing people getting excited as they enjoy their display. Whether it’s a child getting catching a glimpse of Santa’s workshop in their window or a 98-year-old woman visiting for the first time, he said it’s good to see people happy.
“That makes it all worthwhile,” Jeff said.
The Keeners’ house is located at 16504 112th Pl. N.E. in Bothell. The lights display runs from 6-10 p.m. every day, weather permitting.