A season to shine: Light Up Moses Lake winners brighten the winter gloom

·4 min read

Dec. 24—MOSES LAKE — Brady Wiltbank is clear that even if there weren't a contest for the best-lit house in Moses Lake, he'd still decorate his home and yard with lights.

"I love it," said Wiltbank, a father of six and a second-grade teacher at Park Orchard Elementary School. "I actually do the contest so people have a place to go look."

And it's no wonder Wiltbank, who lives in a big corner house at 4211 W. Lakeshore Drive on the peninsula, won the residential portion of the Light Up Moses Lake competition, held in conjunction with the Agricultural Parade in Moses Lake the first Saturday in December.

He has strung his four giant trees with lights, each done up in a different color or color scheme. He has lawn ornaments everywhere — the gang from the "Peanuts" comic strip gathered around a small pond (formed by white lights) with Snoopy skating, lighted reindeer with moving heads, several Santas on sleighs or in the old-fashioned engine of a tiny train, a Nativity scene and a lighted pathway under a bright white ornament circle on the entryway to his house.

There's even a Christmas-themed display done in green laser, in sync with a loop of Christmas songs, on Wiltbank's garage door.

He points to a slowly-moving display close to the sidewalk.

"Kids like the penguin popping out of the igloo this year," Wiltbank said.

Light Up Moses Lake is the work of a group of local businesses that wanted to do something to brighten up the 2021 holiday season after nearly two years of COVID-19-related lockdowns and disruptions. The business partners include the Columbia Basin Herald, the Moses Lake Chamber of Commerce, the city of Moses Lake, the Downtown Moses Lake Association, Moses Lake LEAD and the Grant County Fairgrounds.

"Decorating for Christmas is a tradition for my family," said Belinda Alvarado, one of the owners of B's Barbershop at 223 E. Third Avenue in downtown Moses Lake. "I do it for the kids, too. We get about 70% kids in here, so we wanted to do it for them, make it a little more kid-friendly."

Being a business, B's isn't quite the display of lights and music Wiltbank's house is, but the tasteful corner where kids could meet Santa — several tastefully decorated fake trees, some lights and some wreaths about a bench — was enough to garner B's first place for businesses in the competition.

"We had Santa Claus come last week, so we decorated it for kids to take pictures," Alvarado said. "We love to decorate."

In fact, Alvarado said she and business partner Shanna Berneski also decorate for Halloween, and have served up hotdogs and candy for kids as part of their effort to be good neighbors in downtown Moses Lake.

"We're so excited we won. It gives us bragging rights!" she said.

And winning best float in the Agricultural Parade this year was the smoke-breathing, dragon-headed "longboat" piloted by the local chapter of the Sons of Norway, a 125-year old fraternal organization based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"This boat is very coveted, and there are lodges that would pay big to have this boat," said Son of Norway Melodee Ebensen. "We've been to other parades with other lodges just to represent, and they love the boat. Another lodge would snap it up in a minute."

In fact, Ebensen said, the boat is one of the local lodge's biggest recruiting tools, something other lodge members say they are always on the lookout for.

Because even if Norway is cold, and dark much of the year, the Agricultural Parade comes at a difficult time of the year for some of the older Sons of Norway.

"We're pillaging for new members," said Jamie Casteel as she waved a mock two-headed battle ax. "There's about 25 on record. We're very small, and looking for more people who are willing to come out and participate and help us do more fun things like this in the community."

Even though fun things means learning Norwegian and piloting radio-controlled Viking longboats in tiny lake regattas, Casteel is also clear Norwegian and Viking are not synonymous.

"We're not necessarily Vikings. That's actually a job title, and not a person. There's no DNA that says you're a Viking," she said. "We're showing there's more to it. There's the food, the culture, the clothing, the music."

"It's more than just lefse and lutefisk," Casteel added.

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