KENNEWICK -- Christmas doesn't come just once a year for the Gowen family of Kennewick.
As soon as their elaborate Christmas decorations come down, Steve Gowen and his wife Lorna and their children Andrew and Sarah begin working on the next year's display.
And what a display it is: 60,000 lights, almost a mile of extension cords, a radio station playing Christmas carols and an animated Santa.
"We enjoy the Christmas lights and decorations, but Steve's really the driving force behind all this," said Lorna, gesturing at a 25-foot tree made of steel with 96 strands of LED lights.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Tri-City Herald
The mega-tree doesn't stand alone. It's surrounded by 10 smaller trees, gifts and other decorations -- all wrapped, draped or otherwise enhanced with multiple strands of LED lights, all synchronized to blink and twinkle in time to Christmas carols broadcast over a short-range radio station.
Gowen has always decorated for the holidays.
"I love Christmas, my parents loved it and so did my grandparents in Germany," he said. "It's always been a very special time for our family."
But when the computer geek discovered components on the internet that would synchronize lights to music, he kicked his decorating up a notch. Actually he turned it up to high power.
So much so that he had to add an electrical panel in the garage -- appropriately labeled "Showtime."
It's not completely over the top like Clark Griswold's display in the movie Christmas Vacation, but his friends and neighbors jokingly call him "Griswold."
Gowen bought his first set of components in 2007. That was the beginning of a series of family summer projects as the display grew and grew.
For instance, the family made 10 small light trees using tomato cages turned upside-down, their legs bent and welded to form a point.
"We put them on lazy susans and wound strings of lights on them while we watched television," Lorna said. "It took us all one summer."
Each tree has 12 strings of lights in four different colors. Each color is attached to a cord leading back to a controller, all of which is ultimately governed by a computer in the house.
Special software makes it possible for Steve and his two children to program each of the various yard decorations to flash on and off, fade or twinkle to music.
"Each song takes about two hours of computer time," Gowen said. "We have about 15 songs programed now and we mix them up each night. But every time we add something we have to reprogram everything."
"It's time consuming but the effect is worth it," he said. "I love to watch people's faces as they watch the lights, especially the kids."
The Christmas carols are played on a limited-range unlicensed radio frequency, 92.9 FM.
"You can pick it up on your car radio easily, but it only broadcasts about 200 feet," Gowen said.
In addition to the lighted elements of his display, Gowen has a special disco ball that bounces lights against the house.
"It makes it look like it's snowing," he said, adding that he also has a bubble machine. When it's not too windy, the machine fills the yard with shimmering bubbles.
In an upstairs window, Santa walks past, waving at onlookers as he stacks gifts. It's a DVD movie projected onto a special screen.
"It's awesome. It really looks like Santa's right there," Gowen said. "The kids love it, especially when it looks like he's waving right at them."
Gowen said his neighbors love the display. When work pressures didn't allow him to set up the display last year, many were disappointed.
"They start asking me around Halloween, 'When are you going to put up the lights?' " he said. "I did worry that all the traffic would bother them, but people have been really good about not blocking driveways. They usually come, listen to a song and then go on and let someone else have a turn."
Ask Gowen how much the display has cost and he can't say, although it's obviously several thousand dollars.
Gowen said people used to try and give him money to put against the electric bill or to buy more lights. He always refused it, but then decided why not and put out a collection box.
Any donations go to the American Cancer Society, however.
"Most people who have a display like this take donations for charity. One collects for a youth camp, another for Toys for Tots," he said.
So far, Gowen said the electric bill is manageable. He estimates it only jumps about $50 a month.
"LEDs are very efficient, and they're not all on at the same time," he said.
But just wait until next year.