Christmas has always been a special time of the year for my family. I can still remember the glow outside the living room window as I ran to the tree to open my gifts on Christmas morning. The house was always magically decorated inside and out. My mom took care of the inside decorations, while my dad filled the yard with handmade items, fashioned from wood and whatever else he could find. He created motorized displays of the Little Drummer Boy drumming away at the manger, Santa playing a pipe organ and a workshop fully staffed by Santa and his elves. His displays were always a must see for the small town of Saint John Indiana. As I grew up, I knew I had to continue the tradition, and by my freshman year of high school, I took over the decorating. Occasionally my father would lend a hand, but mostly I was on my own. The display continued to grow as I added more and more lights and decorations of my own creation. I began to build my own animated figures when I realized I couldn't afford what I saw in the malls or the department store windows of Chicago. So each evening after school and on weekends, I would make my own animated figures fashioned from plywood, chicken wire, fabric and vending machine motors. I kept adding to the display for years until my job took most of my free time. I can still remember the rush to get the display up and running over the Thanksgiving holiday in the cold Indiana weather.
In the years following, my display continued to grow and advance. Computer control was added in 2003. It gave me the ability to animate lights to music, and was a welcome addition to my display. As I fired up the PC, a long time dream of computer controlled lighting was realized. Weeks of programming had paid off, as my lights changed to the beat of the music. In my line of work, computers and technology are commonplace, but that evening was truly special and I wished my dad could have seen the display. It also saw the addition of the original “Z-Tree” to the display. I always wanted a large traditional tree to be the focal point of my display, but the price was well outside my budget, so I created my own out of PVC, cable ties, pine garland, and lights. Over the years, there have been numerous versions made by fellow decorators coast-to-coast. The tree was named by a fellow decorator on the Planet Christmas forum, and it stuck to this day!
In 2008 I was finally able to add an element I wanted to do since I was a child, animatronics! I created my first true animatronic, which was a singing and dancing Frosty the Snowman. He was an immediate hit, and display became more than a light show, it was now a concert, complete with a performer!
As the years rolled on, I added more and more animatronic elements to the display, as well as slowly converting to LED lights. Dancing and pop-up singing elves were added, and Santa in a sleigh pulled by Rudolph took flight over the display. 2010 saw the addition of one of my visitor’s favorite display elements, “DJ Jingles!” I now had a host, as well as singers and dancers. The show was now complete!
Currently I work as an Emmy Award winning video editor, creating theatrical and television commercials and presentations. The works of my creativity are displayed on a flat screen, and each Christmas, the display allows me to break out of the tube and put on a show in the three dimensional world. In my off hours, I’ve been able to turn my love of decorating and video career into a few side business ventures. The first was “Big Scream TV” created by a life long friend and I in 2004. It was a series of holiday entertainment videos that were used to decorate and entertain trick-or-treaters and Halloween party guests. It was a unique addition to the Halloween decorating market and a big hit with consumers. After receiving numerous requests for my display animatronics, I started Season’s Greeters in 2013. The goal was to create affordable “theme park like” animatronics for the home display or large venue market.
So why do I have this crazy obsession with decorating and Christmas? Each year as I stand in the front yard and watch the display, a flood of wonderful childhood memories of Christmases past resurface. My parents always made the holidays so special and I love to be able to share a little bit of the magic they instilled in me. One of my greatest joys is watching the smiles of the children, and their parents enjoying their children’s happiness! It’s always wonderful to hear the display has become a family tradition from my visitors. I guess traditions like these and the memories they rekindle are one of most special things we have, and one of the greatest joys of Christmas.
- Mike Ziemkowski
In 1999, I moved to Los Angeles, where I’m currently residing in the small community of Sherman Oaks. The house and yard are much smaller, and the animated figures I created have been left behind with relatives in Indiana. Decorating in a parka and gloves have been replaced with shorts and a t-shirt. The older I get, the more I appreciate this as I decorate in the warm California Novembers, but I still miss the snow.
In 2005 I added a DMX controlled intelligent light to the display. As far as I know, it was one of the first uses of this type of light in a home display. The light is housed inside the “Z-Tree.” It has the ability to sweep the house, as well as project patterns on the house and driveway. As a result of the attention my display received on the net in 2005, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden hired me to bring my show to them for the 2006 holiday season. I was back in the Midwest where it all began, doing the thing I loved to do, and getting paid for it. The show was well received and a hit at the zoo. This was one of the many things that filled my busy 2006 holiday schedule. I returned home to get my personal display ready to be featured on The History Channel's Modern Marvels “Christmas Tech” show. I also managed to add sychronized video to the display that year. It was shown on a rear projection screen, encircled by a wreath I created out of PVC. Once again, it was one of the first uses of synchronized video in the home decorating community.