A news helicopter was flying over Whidbey Island to survey a windstorm that knocked out power to most of the region a few years ago, when suddenly the crew saw a light in the distance.
Make that thousands of lights.
Standing out in an ocean of darkness, more than 30,000 Christmas lights were beaming below in Clinton.
It was the home of the Beck family, who had hooked up their incandescent display to a powerful generator. Not even a pesky storm could keep them from providing their island neighbors with a beacon of holiday spirit, as they have every year since 1996.
“If we stop doing it, there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people,” said Jerry Beck, who owns an electrical contracting business on Whidbey Island. “We want to give back to our community.”
See Jerry and Lois Beck’s 22nd annual drive-through light show for yourself through Dec. 31. This year’s display features 34,000 lights and more than a dozen plywood cutouts hand-painted and arranged into Christmas-y scenes. If you’re not already on Whidbey, it’s definitely worth the ferry ride over.
You’ll know you’ve found the place when you see the night sky glowing up ahead. You’ll first see a telephone pole wrapped in colorful lights. In the driveway is a plywood snowman wearing a red scarf. Once you find the house, tune into the Becks’ very own radio station set up so passersby can listen to Christmas carols.
Take the roundabout so you can see all of the bright lights and plywood characters, including Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Linus among colorful Charles Schulz-like trees.
Look for the vintage decorations, including a set of blow-molded snowmen and carolers backlit by a small Christmas tree.
You also can’t miss the 60-foot-tall evergreen on the one-acre property, illuminated with strobe lights and decked out in candy canes and bells. It comes into view as you drive around the back.
Nearby are penguin cutouts frolicking in the snow, a shed lit in green and blue that serves as a Seattle Seahawks shrine and a plywood nativity scene in a goat pen, where you can also see live goats.
At the end of the driveway is a donation bin for the Good Cheer Food Bank in Langley and Ryan’s House for Youth in Coupeville.
The Becks change their layout every year to keep things fresh. The only thing that stays the same is the rope of green lights that cordons off the yard to keep cars off the grass.
Their driveway is teardrop-shaped, allowing drivers to circle the property as many times as they want — which they do.
They said one family that visits every year first stops by Dairy Queen and then circles the Becks’ displays again and again until the kids finish their peppermint milkshakes.
“That just makes you smile,” Lois Beck said.
The “oohs” and “ahhs” from adults and occasional screams of joy from kids never fail to amuse them. They try to turn their indoor lights off at night so as to not ruin the outdoor light show for visitors. They’ve decorated their house for so many years the next generation now stops by to check out the lights.
Jerry Beck strings up the lights himself. (His family helps.) His dad taught him how when he was a boy growing up in 1960s Northern California. He remembers the neighbors were worried that a 7-year-old was hanging lights on a two-story roof.
“I thought it was totally normal,” he said.
Jerry and Lois moved to Clinton in 1994. Jerry joined the local fire department as a volunteer, eventually rising to the rank of captain of the station down the street from their home. He retired in 2016.
The couple decided early on that if they were going to put in the effort of turning their home into a holiday extravaganza, the community should have the chance to see it.
“The point is to get people to drive through and share this experience with their kids,” Jerry Beck said.
So the Becks dropped flyers off at local businesses with directions to the display. Through the years, the number of visitors has grown — there were 1,454 in 2017 — as has the light show itself.
Their family of six sets up the lights and decorations starting in October. The display is ready by Thanksgiving. It helps that Jerry Beck is a master electrician.
They’ll have a $600 electric bill by the time they take the lights down, but Jerry and Lois don’t mind. They say they’re paid back in full by the smiles the lights bring.