See the Lights
Meet the Holiday Home-Glower
Known as the "Woodinville Wonderland," Mark Zembruski's display has warmed families in the Seattle area for years. The joyful showstopper also helps raise money for the Special Olympics of Washington (SOWA) and to support the Woodinville Wranglers SOWA team, a program dear to Mark's heart.
First, the two questions everyone asks: Approximately how many lights are in your display? And how long does it take you to put them up?
Mark: We will have approximately 110,000 lights. Set up is accomplished by three people: me, myself, and I. So it takes a while. Set up outside starts October 1 and takes approx 24 man-days to complete. This is comprised of weekends up until Thanksgiving week. By then, most of the leaves have fallen, and we take that entire week, and all the way up to Dec 1st, to get the yard and electrical set up complete. Set up is not all about hauling items out of storage and into the yard or on the house. Everything has to be checked -- and then, if required, fixed -- before they get put into place. So it is quite the process. A lot can happen in nine months of storage.
How many years having you been putting up your display? How did it become a tradition?
Mark: I have been decorating for Christmas at one level or another most of my life. The tradition started early watching Mom and Dad decorate inside and out, plus having a close family friend having a Christmas tree lot -- I got the opportunity to work at it growing up as well. Once on my own, I decorated each year inside until the time I got my own home. Then we headed outside. The house we currently live in has been decorated inside and out as long as we have been living in it, so for the past 16 years. 2004 is when the display started to grow into what is now Woodinville Wonderland.
What's your favorite part of your display or what are you most proud of?
Mark: My favorite part of the display is witnessing the tradition that others have created in coming to my home for Christmas. Yes, we do this because it is cool and a lot of fun to create, but over the past 7 years we have seen families who have now made us a part of their holidays. We've seen kids grow up, get to meet grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends, as our visitors come back sometimes several times during the season, then year after year. So I am most proud of the fact that we get told all the time that Woodinville Wonderland is the best family-friendly, and most fun display, in the greater Seattle area. We continue to strive to keep a tasteful blend of tradition along with technical, providing something for everybody, and we seem to be successful with our approach.
If you were to dedicate your display to anyone or thank anyone, who would it be?
Mark: Dedicating the display to one person? That would have to be my Mom. My love for Christmas music and decorating really comes from her. So animating the display, where the lights dance to the music, was inspired by that love of Christmas carols and those fond memories. Her favorite song, "Silent Night", was my first, and still my favorite song ("Stille Nacht") to have in my display. As far as thanking someone, I have a huge network of friends who decorate for holidays at some level. We communicate, help and share ideas year round. Some are close friends here in Washington, and some are around the globe. That camaraderie has been extremely helpful and invaluable to me over the years.
Do you support any particular charity with your display?
Mark: Woodinville Wonderland has collected funds for Special Olympics of Washington since 2007. We are very proud of that relationship and have developed a close tie to the hometown Woodinville Wranglers SOWA team. The great story behind this is sort of a personal, and one that touches one of my close friends. Sports has always been important in my life growing up. The sense of pride and direction that it provided to me has been invaluable. I have a good buddy whose two stepsons participated in the program growing up. The self esteem and pride that it created for them and others who participate is very special. It was a great blend that came together to make this decision.
And just for fun... What's your favorite holiday movie and song? And is there any one celebrity you'd like to meet?
Mark: Man, this is tough, because I like most of them, old and new. But the one that sticks out is "A Charlie Brown Christmas". I remember watching that as a child every year. The movie has been brought to life in our display. The Peanuts Nativity has its own special vignette and customized Charlie Brown monologue, a must-see part of the display.
The one celebrity I would love to meet is not directly Christmas-related but has everything to do with belief, faith, hope and love of mankind: Nelson Mandela.