BETTSVILLE - During the Christmas season, Jim Rapp's co-workers call him "Griswold." Like the movie character portrayed by Chevy Chase in "Christmas Vacation," Jim, with some help from wife Deb, turns the four sides of his Bettsville home into a light display that illuminates the neighborhood.
"You just can't say it. You've got to see it," Jim said. "The caroling bears are new, and the small snowman."
The couple said they usually start decorating around Thanksgiving. All the roof lines of the two-story home are lined with icicle lights, with the most challenging section being the highest peak on the north side.
Jim made the candy canes, stockings, wreaths, candles, angels and other figures that hang on the house, sit on the ground and brighten the yard. Santa and his reindeer team stretch along the porch, and lanterns lead to the front door. Jim estimates his handiwork includes about 14,000 colored bulbs.
"It may be up before Thanksgiving, but it never gets turned on 'til after Thanksgiving," Deb said.
"I take care of the outside. She helps me sometimes with handing things up. We've made all our decorations together," Jim said. "About 25 years ago, Mom and Dad brought me the wreath and the angel."
Starting with those two pieces, Jim made more items for his own residence and some extras to sell. The couple's three children also helped. Many of their creations resulted from trial and error.
"For some of them, we had a pattern, but we had to figure out how to make the holes, where to put them and put lights in them. Some of them, I made the designs and we made them bigger like the big poinsettias. I designed them," Deb said.
Each large flower has 550 lights that frame the letters for "Happy Holidays." The Rapps used patterns to cut out the Nativity figures but they painted the faces and garments free-hand. There was no pattern for the stable.
"I basically designed that myself," Jim said.
"We had to have a Nativity scene. That's what Christmas is all about. We have to keep Christ in Christmas," Deb said. "Everybody seems to forget what the reason is."
The front porch is where Jim does most of the woodworking. In making new pieces, he learned that too many lights can distort the shape of an object in a "ball" of light.
"During the day, you can see things, too, because of how they're painted up," Deb said.
When stores first started stocking Christmas lights and decorations made in China and the "T" countries, the Rapps' daughter wanted her parents to stick with American merchandise as much as possible. They did some research online to find supplies "Made in USA."
"You know it was real hard to find some things made in the United States," Jim said.
Indoors, the 7.5-foot Christmas tree is flanked by two large, angel dolls on one side and a pair of soft-sculpture Santa and Mrs. Claus dolls Deb made on the other. A collection of angels also occupies a corner curio cabinet and a shelf in the living room holds an animated heavenly host gently swaying shining robes.
"Last year, we did downsize our tree. We used to have a 10-foot tree," Jim said.
For 2012, Deb used white lights and a red and gold theme for her Christmas tree, but other years, she used all blue lights with blue and silver ornaments. She targets after-Christmas mark-downs to get new additions. Newer strands of lights have the bulbs placed closer together, making them hard to match with what the Rapps already have.
"Usually, the lights, you've got to buy when they first come out," Jim said. "Over the years, they've changed so many styles of lights. It's made it almost impossible to make crafts and sell them. We tend to stick with what we make."
The first piece of Deb's miniature Christmas village was a double-spired church with fiber optic lighting. The other buildings were added year by year. When fiber optics were no longer available, Deb bought pieces with traditional lights and created a bi-level layout.
Even if they get a late start, they try to decorate as much as possible for their five grandchildren. The community also seems to appreciate the effort.
"About five years ago, I think it was an elderly couple that called and thanked us for doing it again. They always enjoyed it," Jim said.
One year, when Jim was working a lot of overtime at his factory job, someone called to ask if they needed help putting up their display. The couple often sees vehicles slowly driving by and the occasional flash of a camera.
"It doesn't bother us," Deb said.
The Rapp home at 103 Monroe St., Bettsville, is to stay lighted through the first week of January. Jim said he has tried to keep the decorations more tasteful than the Griswold movie version. He is considering adding lights to his 20-foot evergreen for next year.