Christmas decorations brighten Sitka after rough year

Mike Romine in front of his display. (Brielle Schaeffer/KCAW photo)
Mike Romine in front of his display. (Brielle Schaeffer/KCAW photo)

Mike Romine is a Sitka man with a love of Christmas lights. His home has become an attraction every December with its huge displays, coordinated to musical hits such as “Uptown Funk” and “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen. But this season, as Sitkans work to recover from a deadly natural disaster, the lights hold a special meaning.

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In the daytime, Mike Romine’s house on Wachusetts Street looks like a Christmas wonderland. Big inflatable snowman and  penguins repurposed from bowling pins adorn his yard.

But that isn’t even the real show. At around 4’o clock every day, the magic happens. Romine, with four separate controllers, hits the buttons to make all of his seasonal tableaus glow.

“That’s it that’s everything,” he said, as he hit the buttons.

The crowning glory of his display are strings of LED lights in the shape of a Christmas tree that flash pictures set to music he plays from a speaker outside his house. He also transmits it on an FM frequency so people can hear it in their cars.

The Romine’s house. (Brielle Schaeffer, KCAW photo)
The Romine’s house. (Brielle Schaeffer, KCAW photo)

“This is a really dark time of year in Sitka and you know when you’re out running around and you see a big house light up it brings a smile to your face every time,” he said.

A commercial and charter fisherman, Romine says his display gives him something to do in his offseason. And he says he’s always enjoyed the seasonal decorations.

“When I bought this house I had a big yard and I remembered when I was a kid all of us piling into the car and riding around looking at Christmas lights,” he said.

And Romine’s display this year is especially poignant. As you watch the lights climb up the tallest part of the display, they form words. The date: August 18, when seven landslides struck in the Sitka area, and then the names: Elmer and Ulises Diaz and William Stortz, the three individuals who lost their lives that day.

“I just knew that there was a lot of people that that affected,” he said. “Sitka really came together. It was a pretty big deal. I thought just showing that I was thinking of them probably means that most of Sitka probably is too. I think the families have appreciated it.”

Although it might best be described as public art now, Romine’s display started modestly eight years ago and over time, grew to take over his whole yard. Perhaps, the most popular addition is a new song for his light tree and an illuminated Santa design grooving to the beat.

Snowmen warming up by the fire in the Romine’s yard. (Brielle Schaeffer/KCAW photo)
Snowmen warming up by the fire in the Romine’s yard. (Brielle Schaeffer/KCAW photo)

“I get a real kick out of every time I look out my window there’s people out here dancing,” Romine said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

The lights are quite the town attraction. While traffic can get backed up into the roundabout right outside Romine’s house, his neighbors are OK with it, at least for the month. Here’s Noah Shepherd:

“It’s holiday season you got to kind of roll with it.”

On a recent evening, several people cruised by in cars to watch the lights. Jada Smith was with her family, including her granddaughter, 2-year-old Jaycee. They stopped by after a concert at Blatchley Middle School.

“It’s fantastic. The baby loves it,” she said. “We all do. A nice Christmas evening.”

All in all, Romine estimates the spectacle has 7,000 lights. During the month of December, he says he doesn’t even look at his electricity bill.

“We have it on prepay with the city on a credit card,” he said. “It’s only for a month and it’s not that big of deal so I don’t even really worry  about it.”

But, he says the cost is well worth it to see and hear from people like Smith, and baby Jaycee, who are delighted with the show.

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