'Celebrate the Light' - the final show: Willmar family will end 10-year run of popular Christmas display


WILLMAR — Although the sun is shining, the temperature is in the teens and it's hard to even look at Chad Koosman's bare hands as he holds a segment of the five miles — yes, five miles — of extension cords that criss-cross his rural Willmar yard.

When the cords are plugged in, they will bring power to 600,000 bulbs that will light up the dancing trees, leaping arches, shooting stars, sky-high cross, candy canes and reindeer for the annual six-week-long "Celebrate the Light" Christmas Koosman and his wife, Angie, host.

Work on setting up the massive display started Oct. 10, and by the time the display is open to the public on Thanksgiving Day, Koosman, a dozen volunteers and the employees from his landscaping company, Turbo Turf, will have invested well over 1,000 hours.

That doesn't count the endless hours spent synchronizing 11 holiday songs to the blinking lights to create an animated night-time show, helping kids decorate over 1,000 cookies, escorting families into their living room for photos with Santa, showing drive-in holiday movies on a large, outdoor screen, preparing an ice-skating rink, keeping a parking lot plowed, maintaining the closed-circuit radio station that broadcasts the light show music into people's vehicles, setting up a fireworks show and — most importantly — collecting money for the Salvation Army.

"I love to give back to the community," Koosman said during a tour of the outdoor display in early November as finishing touches were being made to the display. "I want to celebrate Jesus Christ and let others know the reason for the season."

For the last nine years Koosman has poured his heart and soul — and his time and money — into the display that attracts thousands of people and raises hundreds of thousand of dollars for the Salvation Army.

There is no fee charged to drive through the display or to participate in the activities, but Red Kettle donations are encouraged.

Raising money for Salvation Army is what's "driven us to do the display," he said.

Since the display started in 2008, Koosman has raised $654,000 for the Salvation Army.

In 2015 a record $165,000 was raised — including $40,000 in one night.

Koosman has one more chance to break that record.

This is the last year his family will host the popular light display.

Koosman said he's putting his home up for sale.

He wants to move his family, which includes two young daughters, to a neighborhood that has more young families.

Knowing the display's popularity will be missed, Koosman has been talking to a local organization about taking over the equipment and the responsibility of hosting the show — ideally at Robbins Island Park in Willmar.

He said there's a potential for the holiday display to be "bigger and better" at the park and run by a community organization.

If that happens, Koosman said he would help set up the show during a transition phase.

"I want to keep it going," he said. "If the lights don't have a new home I'd be very sad."

If a local organization doesn't take it over, Koosman said, perhaps whoever buys his home will carry on the tradition — although he doubts anyone would do it.

Koosman said he will "miss the people" he's met and cherishes the memories — including serving as a holiday location for five wedding proposals and being a finalist on ABC's "Light Fight" television show that involved 50 hours of on-site video taping which resulted in an eight-minute aired segment with the dashed hopes of winning $50,000 — but he confesses he won't miss all the work.

Setting up the display involves decorating nearly 25 live trees and nearly 25 trees made from poles and lights, and using a forklift to transform 50-foot telephone poles into Christmas trees with strings of lights that dance and bob and twirl in a flourish of colorful, choreographed blinking lights.

To keep a string of 16 large cascading stars in place he has to maneuver through a swamp to anchor the hefty cables.

Hours of hands-on labor are needed to set up the chapel, gingerbread house, 9-foot-tall candy canes, an immense wall of snowflakes, the entrance tunnel of lights and to constantly maintain the site for the six-week duration of the display.

"Zip ties and duct tape are a man's best friend," Koosman quipped, estimating he uses 10,000 zip ties each year.

Since it's his last year, Koosman could've taken the easy way out and just kept the show the same as last year.

But at the request of his wife, Koosman is programming a new song into the format, "This Little Light of Mine," which is a well-known children's Sunday school song.

Deciding when every single colored light bulb in the entire display will flash and move for every beat of the "techno-version" of the two-minute-and-40-second-long song is tedious, he said.

Koosman and a computer-savvy friend were expected to spend nearly 60 hours outside with a computer this past week to program the new song.

"We'll listen to it a thousand times," he said. "When we get one second completed we're happy."

Given the name and purpose of the "Celebrate the Light" Christmas display, Koosman said the "This Little Light of Mine" song should've been featured "years ago."

For more information go to:



When and where:

Location: 3903 60th Ave. NE, Willmar, MN

Hours: Everyday from 4:30-11 p.m. Nov. 23 through Jan. 7.

Open all night on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Special events include:

Dec. 1: 6:30 p.m. — Drive-in movie "Elf"; refreshments served.

Dec. 2: 6:30 p.m. - Drive-in movie "Alvin and the Chipmunks," immediately followed by fireworks; refreshments served.

Dec. 9: 4-8 p.m. — Photos with Santa, decorate cookies; Christmas carolers (5-8 p.m.)

Fun facts:

* 10,000 — the number of zip ties used each year

* 5 miles — the total length of extension cords used in the display

* 600,000 — the number of light bulbs in the display

* 1,000 — the number of hours invested in setting up the display each year

* 50 miles — the total length of cables, extension cords and light strands in the display, which is enough to reach to St. Cloud

* $12 — The daily electrical cost for operating the light show; using low-energy LED lights keeps the cost low.

Money raised

2008 - $800

2009 - $19,500

2010 - $42,000

2011- $52,000

2012 - $57,000

2013 - $75,000

2014 - $135,000

2015 - $165,000

2016 - $108,000