Every December, come nightfall, the home of Rob and Joyce Scheitler illuminates with a powerful glow. Driving along Highway 3, one could almost mistake it for a city. But by the time you reach the gravel road of Impala Avenue and start to hear the faint sound of holiday music, you’ll know you’ve arrived at one of the largest country Christmas light displays in the area, known among the Scheitlers and visitors as Christmas Acres.
Located in the outskirts of Le Mars, Iowa, the humble residence is adorned with more Christmas decorations than you can count. After organizing the display for the past 21 years, Rob estimates Christmas Acres is equipped with about 100,000 lights, 500 plastic blow molds, 212 lighted sculptures and several other items including inflatables, garlands and giant candy canes.
Each light fixture and decoration has been labeled; letters and numbers scribbled onto pieces of tape in permanent marker, an organizational language understood only by Rob and family members. This is to make sure the position of each decoration is the same from year to year. Construction of the display begins in September, nearly three months before the holiday season even begins.
“With the way the weather was, I spent three to four hours every day after work, and then it’s all day on weekends for eight weeks to get this up and going,” said Rob.
Rob is a pro at Christmas light decorating. He’s been doing it since he was a kid growing up on the family farm not too far from where Christmas Acres is located today.
“Always did it every year,” he said. “Then it got to the point where my dad got into it. He had those running lights and put them on the farm equipment so it looked like stuff was moving in the yard. It evolved down at the farm and we started adding more and more.
“Pretty soon we had lights on all the fence lines, hog buildings and grain bins. Then 21 years ago I built this house. I didn’t even know my wife yet. I built the house right here on our farm ground. I moved [the lights and decorations] all up here and started Christmas Acres.”
The display started off small, but has grown gradually every year. Now, 39 trees and 47 bushes serve as placeholders for Christmas lights at the Scheitler household.
At 5 p.m. every day throughout the month of December, the Scheitler family bundle up in warm clothing, gather their tubs of candy canes to give out to guests and wait for the lines of cars to park alongside the vast country road outside Christmas Acres. Rob’s and Joyce’s daughter, Shaunna Scheitler, and their nephew, Beau Pravecek, help some nights in passing out candy canes to Christmas Acres guests.
There is no fee to wander about the grounds of this Christmas lights display; however, the Scheitlers do include a donation box near the front of their driveway. Funds gathered from freewill donations are then given to the Christian Needs Center of Le Mars. About $4,000 has been raised at Christmas Acres this year.
“They use that to buy food for their food bank,” said Rob. “Since 2011, up through 2016, we’ve given $25,000 from donations received here. Last year we raised $5,900. We did set an all-time record last weekend (Dec. 9-10). We took in $1,636 last weekend alone. It was absolute chaos.”
Other times, kids have emptied their piggy banks as donations in exchange for a candy cane. And it’s likely the Scheitlers won’t run out of those festive candies any time soon. The family has accumulated tubs’ worth of candy canes. The family has already gone through four, 10-gallon containers.
“We estimate we bought close to 5,000 candy canes,” said Rob.
When I got a chance to explore the grounds of Christmas Acres with Rob and his nephew Beau, the sun was just beginning to set. Extension cords lined the grounds like pathways, giving power to each set of lights and inflatables. Rob lifted a plastic container, revealing a collection of timers. “Almost ready,” he said.
A few minutes passed and sure enough the lights began to turn on by themselves while a giant, deflated Frosty the Snowman began to perk up near the side of the house. As the evening grew darker and darker, the lights shined brighter and Christmas Acres came to life.
For 21 years, this place has been a centerpiece of holiday memories for locals. Whether it be family outings ending with a winding walk through the trees and bushes of Christmas Acres, sharing a candy cane with a loved one or coordinating with the Scheitlers for a marriage proposal.
Despite only being open one month annually, Rob said Christmas Acres is a year-round project.
“I’ve already got stuff in the garage for next year,” he said. “I was just told that they’re ready to empty out the old fire station in Brunsville and they’re giving me everything in the shed.”
That’s a fairly common practice for the Sheitler family. They’re used to going out searching for old holiday decorations or having folks come to them with lights to use.
“We take it, we recycle it, we strip off the old lights and put new LEDs on it and they’re just real bright,” said Joyce.
Rob added, “We’ll work all summer on that stuff and rewire it to get it ready.”
The Scheitlers rarely ever purchase anything new when it comes to decorations. They buy lights on clearance and look for items at garage and rummage sales and places like Goodwill. “We’re bargain hunters,” said Joyce with a laugh.
As a result, most of the decorations – especially the plastic blow molds – are slightly faded, giving the display this traditionally timeless appearance. There are no computerized lightshows or bombastic set pieces. The Scheitlers work with what they have
“We are the old-fashioned Christmas display,” said Rob. “I had no idea that when we started this that this is where we’d be today.”