Christmas is a time that's heavily laden in traditions. For the Sztuk's in Juneau, it's a tradition of decorating that's grown over the past 30 years.
Holiday decorating a passion of decades 122612 NEWS 1 Capital City Weekly Christmas is a time that's heavily laden in traditions. For the Sztuk's in Juneau, it's a tradition of decorating that's grown over the past 30 years.

Photos By Sarah Day / Capital City Weekly

Steve and Jean Sztuk point out different elements of their Christmas display on Thursday, Dec. 20 at their home in Juneau. The couple has been creating their own Christmas decorations for the past 30 years.

Photo By Sarah Day / Capital City Weekly

A Bambi and Thumper sign is adorned with Christmas lights in front of the Sztuk's home.

Photos By Sarah Day / Capital City Weekly

Cut outs of a bell and a gingerbread man holding a lollipop are hung on the side of the house.

Photos By Sarah Day / Capital City Weekly

A Ferris Wheel spins in front of the Sztuk's home each night. Steve Sztuk created it in 2005.

Photos By Sarah Day / Capital City Weekly

Detail shot of a stocking cut out.

Photos By Sarah Day / Capital City Weekly

Detail shot of a drum cut out.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Story last updated at 12/26/2012 - 4:11 pm

Holiday decorating a passion of decades

Christmas is a time that's heavily laden in traditions. For the Sztuk's in Juneau, it's a tradition of decorating that's grown over the past 30 years.

Jean and Steve Sztuk have been married 45 years, and as the saying goes, "the couple that plays together, stays together."

If you were to go past their house, you'd see just how much they enjoy the art of play.

Holiday decorating is a passion, but this isn't your average holiday decorating, where most of the décor is bought in a store.

It started in 1983, in a pale blue-hued house in Lemon Creek. Jean wanted to hang candy cane decorations from the awning. The pattern was drawn by hand and plywood cutouts were made.

"They were fastidiously decorated, using tweezers to place sequins in precise rows," Jean wrote in a family history letter. "The results were disappointing. We tried glitter. We tried several types, but discovered the old standby, silver glitter, produced the best results."

Jean said the placement of the candy canes along the awning also ended up being a bad idea. When the wind picked up it flung the wooden candy canes into the window and shattered their son's bedroom window.

It's grown to cut outs of Lifesaver's, M&M's, lollipops, Santa hats and stockings, to include a Ferris Wheel, carousel and 26-car custom train. Add garland and white Christmas lights to the fence, a painted front window, and you've got an elaborate scene. Granted, not all of the motion pieces are on display every year.

This year, the bright red Ferris Wheel spins at 4 p.m. each evening, and stuffed fuzzy teddy bears and a rabbit go for a ride under the sparkling lights.

The carousel hasn't been on display for a few years now, but the train set was finished and function for 2010.

Each piece is more than a decoration, it's a memory.

In 1989, they added ice cream cone cut outs to the mix, and their daughter, Crystal, got way into painting them. Jean recalls she saw her daughter with paint on the floor and paint in her hair, but having a grand time.

Lollipops, a gingerbread man and colorful drums were added in the next couple years.

Then came Snow White and her seven dwarves. She proved to be one of the most difficult to paint.

"It was like painting sand," Jean said.

But it ended up being one of the projects the family is most proud about, and it was all done on the dining room table.

In 1994 they added the carousel by cutting out carousel horses. The couple has an attorney friend named Doug who stopped by in the middle of this process. He asked if they were going to make the horses go 'round. Jean and Steve's history page says they told him to get out (jokingly). Of course, now that the idea was sprung, it had to happen. Every piece of their décor was a learning experience.

"We had astronaut horses going around here for a while," Jean said.

Bambi and Thumper painted on large board was started in 1999, finished in 2005. In 2005 they also began work on the Ferris Wheel.

In 2008 the cut outs included gift-wrapped boxes, addressed "For You."

The train is another high point in the couple's tradition. The engine was made out of an aftershave bottle, lotion bottle, vitamin C bottle and an old kitchen spatula - the rest Steve created. The 26 cars included features like a helicopter and horses, and letters spelling out "Merry Christmas."

This year, Jean added four small angels. Angels are another passion of hers.

Each year Melissa McCormick paints a scene on their front window.

"She's so generous," Jean said.

This year it's of the Peanut's character Snoopy.

The couple tries to add a new piece each year.

"Whatever pops into our head and whatever we have time for," Jean said.

And the reactions through the years have just been heartwarming. Steve enjoys seeing kids hang out on the fence and watch the decorations move. He recalled one little boy sitting out there for hours.

They also heard of a city bus driving by, and a little boy was riding with his mother. He threw such a tantrum because he wanted the bus driver to stop at "Santa's house."

They've also had a neighbor, who works as a psychiatrist for the prison, stop by and thank them for the display because it "put life back into him."

"They see all the stuff going on, the lights, the motion and it makes them happy," Jean said. "We enjoy this."

"We've only ever had one complaint," Jean said.

A former neighbor complained that a light was shining into his window. It had been reflecting oddly, but the Sztuk's fixed that and make sure that the spotlights don't reflect into houses or on the street where cars go by.

The Sztuk's would absolutely recommend getting involved in decorating.

"I think it brings families together," Jean said. "I think it brings people close together. It's fun too. Some people sew, some people write poems, some people write books. It's fun to see where your inventive insight will take you. Not everything we've done has been a success. I would prefer people make their own things, but I would like it if people would participate, even if they went to the store and bought stuff."

Steve enjoys the decorating, and finds it to be more fun than watching TV. He said it's something to keep him busy and he enjoys watching the children's reactions. Steve said that once he sees a couple kids hanging out on the fence and stare at the display, he knows they've made it well.

Jean started decorating in college, but didn't start making decorations until 30 years ago. Steve's profession was electrician with Alaska Electric Light and Power, so his inventive side comes from making things fun and either light up or move.

"When I grew up we didn't have a Christmas tree," he said. "The Presbyterian church had a great big Christmas tree."

His family lived a mile or two out of town, and he remembered the church celebration being a big community event that was a lot of fun.

The Sztuk's plan to continue decorating and creating until they are "dead and gone" and hope people continue to enjoy the display each year.

Sarah Day is the editor of Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at