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Nathan's column: Sad to see these lights go out

I learned this week that one of my favorite Christmas light displays is going away. It's making me a little bit sad.

Not a lot. You won't find me blubbering in the corner. That would be weird. It's just making me a little misty. Deep down inside. Outside I'm still as tough and manly as ever. Which I imagine puts me roughly on par with the typical female wrestler.

But back to the Christmas lights.

These particular lights have been around since 2000, and while they were impressive in their way they lacked a certain artistry. The 16-foot tall Santa and sleigh and its the 15-foot reindeer pulling it were about as true to life as the typical Christmas cookie cutter. They were rough outlines created with metal pipe and strings of light. There was nothing that flashed. The lights were not programmed to dance along with Gangnam Style.

Mostly they were just big. Larger than life, I assume. The Night Before Christmas describes a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, not eight beasts that could trample a Hummer.

Granted, that would probably be harder to rhyme.

It's certainly reasonable to be impressed by any holiday display that could squash you if it happened to topple over, but it's the story behind this particular setup that really endeared it to me.

The lights were the creation of three sets of neighbors. The kind of group that would hang out in one garage or the other drinking beer and laughing. In the winter they would put miles and miles on their snowmobiles just hauling their kids back up from the bottom of the big hill behind their houses.

They also talked about crazy plans like building a giant holiday display, an idea that first came up at a party in 1998. It wasn't until the next year, when one of the neighbors died unexpectedly, that the group suddenly got serious.

"It was a little eye-opening, knowing you can't keep putting things off," Doug Peterson told me when I dropped in to interview the group at the time. "I had a physical the next week."

Peterson and his neighbors also started thinking a little more seriously about a plan that most of them probably thought was just a joke when it first came up.

The next year, they sketched out their plan on the driveway, drawing with chalk the way their kids might. They made countless trips to Menards for supplies and bent the structure into shape. For the next few years, the display decorated the rooftops of three neighboring houses.

A few years later, another neighbor created a gigantic snowman in the same style to join them.

Things change, though. Over the years the neighbors started moving away. When the last family left in 2004, they donated the display to the city of Farmington. The city spent an estimated $600 to repair the structure and replace some lights. The reindeer have pranced across the roof of the city's maintenance facility every year since.

Now, apparently that's ending too. The display is too rusted. It won't stand up to another year.

The reindeer are going into retirement.

I'll miss them. But at least I'll always have their story.