Lighting up the night

LIHUE — Just a few months after Hurricane Iniki devastated the island in 1992, Herbert Honjo and his next door neighbor, Norvin Olivas, tried to think of a way to lift up people’s battered spirits as the holiday season approached. 

What they came up with was a bright holiday light display that lined the front of their houses and yards.   

“Everybody was kind of feeling a little down after the hurricane, so we wanted to cheer people up, especially the kids,” Honjo recalled as he sat in the garage of his Hardy Street home in Lihue. 

It’s a tradition that has endured the test of time and continues on for all who drive past Elsie H. Wilcox Elementary School to see. 

“We’ve done it for the kids all of these years, but of course, adults can enjoy it, too,” said Honjo, a 73-year-old retired Department of Defense employee.

But before any of the lights are turned on and throngs of onlookers start arriving, the entire process of getting the lights up typically begins in September, when Honjo starts crafting out his holiday vision for the year. 

“I just try to use a different theme every year — some years I think of the song, ‘O Christmas Tree,’ so I put more Christmas tree decorations than figurines up,” Honjo said. “More or less, the first thing I have to decide on is my line of thought — if I’m going to put more Christmas trees, snowmen, or other things up. Once I kind of decide that, I slowly get them up.” 

Though many of the decorations that now line the Honjo and Olivas homes consist of energy-efficient LED lights, Honjo said that his holiday hobby can be an expensive one. 

Ensuring that the holiday decorations are well lit at night, Honjo said, will usually cause his electricity costs to temporarily increase by nearly $125 to $200 a month. 

“Hey, it’s for the cause — it’s just that much less beer that I have to drink,” Honjo said with a laugh. “A lot of people come and some guys want to help or donate, and I say, ‘Thank you, but give it to the Salvation Army or some other organization.’”

But there are, he said, other ways to avoid some costs. 

“I figured out that, if I had to buy a new set of lights, it would run me about $400 to $500, so I repair my own lights,” Honjo said. “I’m retired now, but even when I was working, I would take them out in the afternoons and check the lights. I would wait for sales at the end of the year and I would buy the string lights only for the colored bulbs.” 

And getting through that stage alone, he said, can be time-consuming — about a monthlong process, to be exact. 

“During the day, I don’t put them up — I only put them up at night,” Honjo explained. “I turn them on and I have all of the stringed lights lying down, and I use my 15-foot pole with the hook to start putting them up. After I put them up, we go across the street and look if some place is too lighted or not lighted enough.” 

Some of the decorations, like the lighted angel, reindeer, or Santa Claus figurines in his front yard, were purchased over the years. Others, like the giant, lighted stars and the giant Christmas tree crafted from tinsel in the Honjo yard were carefully made by hand. 

The goal during most years, he said, is to have all of the lights up in time for Thanksgiving and run them from 6 to 10 p.m. each night until New Year’s Day, when the decorations are removed. 

Taking all the decorations down, with the help of his family, usually takes about half a day, Honjo said. 

Although he cannot remember how many holiday decorations he owns, Honjo said his collection is big enough to fill an entire 5-foot by 5-foot room in his garage to the ceiling. 

“The break down is easy because you don’t think — you just pull them off, coil them up and put them away,” Honjo said. “To put it up, you have to look and see whether you want to put them this way or that way. Just the Santa Claus took me three days to put up.” 

It’s hard work, Honjo admits, but keeping it going for his late wife, who died four years ago from a heart attack, and his grandchildren makes it all worth it.

“A lot of families stop and the kids run around and play with the figurines,” Honjo said. “There’s the satisfaction of getting it working, and that’s part of it, too. Even for my grandson, he goes out in the yard, jumps on the rocking horse, tries to hold the head still on the dinosaur that’s moving, and seeing that, for me, brings a lot of satisfaction.”

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