Christmas lights up Cleveland St.

Decorations double as festive fundraiser


Lights at the Maris household are synced to 101.5 FM

Festive decorations are common throughout the North Shore, but the Maris home in Wilmette takes it to the next level. With 50,000 lights synchronized to music on its own radio station, the “Christmas House” at 1200 Cleveland Street is one of the area’s premier holiday attractions.

Also known as “Christmas on Cleveland Street,” the house attracts visitors from all over. In December, it’s not uncommon to see dozens of cars lined up to catch the show, which runs from 4:30-9:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4:30-10:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The Christmas House’s unique light and music show is the brainchild of homeowner Steve Maris, whose love of Christmas started at a young age.

“My father used to take us when we were kids to see the lights in the Sauganash neighborhood of Chicago. He was the only one who decorated the house on our entire block.”

For the past few years the family has held an annual light show fundraiser for Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, organized by Maris’ wife, Meg. They typically raise upwards of $1,000 in donations and are glad to help children in need.

The lights are synced to various techno-themed and traditional Christmas songs, which are broadcast on radio station 101.5 FM. Maris uses a small transmitter that allows him to broadcast on unused radio station numbers. It sounds complicated but he insists, “It is actually one of the simplest things.” Maris has about 18 songs programmed “and changes them up every night.”

It takes about 18 hours of programming to do a three minute song. He cites “Here Comes Santa Claus” as his favorite song that he’s programmed.

Seeing the Christmas House in daytime is nearly as fascinating as it is at night. There is a vast network of cables and wires criss-crossing the yard.

As Maris explains, “The lights are controlled by a software program called light-o-rama. I have a dedicated laptop computer for the show. Network cables are daisy-chained from the computer to all the controllers in the yard.”

A side effect of the show’s immense popularity is increased traffic.

“Our street is short and narrow, and because they live on the corner of our street and Thornwood Ave (a busy street), it causes some congestion within the area,” said senior Katie Stearns, who lives on the same block. “But they always seem super friendly and I know they love putting on this display for everyone to enjoy.”

Maris is now in his seventh year of producing the holiday show. He jokes that he contemplates taking a year off every year but promises, “I will continue doing it as long as I am physically able.”

The show doesn’t always go smoothly.

“There is always a light out or something misbehaving on a nightly basis, but the biggest issues arise when it gets wet from rain or wet snow. I have learned to just leave the show off on those nights.”

Maris tells about the time when, “after set-up in year three, I was contemplating making it the last year. On the first night of the show as I was out testing the lights, a minivan with about eight children pulled up to the house, and the kids all started singing the songs and thanking me. That was my most rewarding experience.”

Maris said that “most of the neighbors look forward to it, and give me encouragement during set up.”

Stearns agrees: “Living by the Christmas house is a super fun way to get in the spirit of the holidays. It’s very festive and so many people love to come and look at the show.”