Jonathan Jordan takes Chanukah, the festival of lights, seriously. Very seriously.
“Twenty, 30 years ago, they didn’t have outdoor Chanukah decorations like they do today,” said the 32-year-old Wheaton Hills resident. He had just finished setting up an elaborate display of blue-and-white lights, giant spinning tinsel dreidels, teddy bears wrapped in tallitot, huge inflatable menorot and even a pair of blow-up Chasidim sitting on benches — better known as Mensch on a Bench.
Jordan and his wife, fellow attorney Christina Autin, have dubbed their home “Hanukkah House.” It even has its own hashtag: #HanukkahhouseDC.
“We’re just trying to draw interest,” said Jordan, a coach for the Berman Hebrew Academy basketball team. “We get a lot of people stopping by and taking pictures [and] posting on social media or sharing with friends and family.”
Jordan has collected outdoor Chanukah decorations for a while — a backyard shed holds yards of blue lights, extension cords, timers, inflatables and glittering characters from white bears sporting blue yarmulkes to puppies with dreidels on their chests, and giant menorot. In the past three years, as a new homeowner, he’s gone all in, adding more lights, playful figures and inflatables to the collection and, in December, his lawn.
When Jordan was growing up in Alexandria, his mother held a big annual Chanukah party. “We invited a mixture of Jewish friends and non-Jewish friends. It was a very diverse party,” he said. “My mom called it a little United Nations.”
They decorated inside, but it paled in comparison to the Jordans’ Palestinian Christian neighbors across the street. He remembers their elaborately decorated Santa’s house, glowing with multicolored lights and Christmastime figures of all sorts.
The outdoor Chanukah decoration market has boomed only in the past decade, noted Jordan, a member of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase. Before that, finding any specialty decorations beyond blue or white strings of lights, indoor garlands or window stickers was almost impossible. The majority of the figures, lights and spinning dreidel decor he uses comes from Bed, Bath and Beyond and he noted that each year the retailer adds new items to the collection. He purchases the oversized inflatables online.
During a season filled with Christmas decorations and activities, Jordan said, representing Chanukah can make a difference for a Jewish child or Jewish family, who might feel overlooked in the midst of Christmas displays.
“Here in Wheaton, there are no issues,” he said, referring to the family’s elaborate Chanukah display. “It’s been great. People love it. Every time we’re outside, we get complimented. People drive by, slow down or park. If they’re walking and we’re outside, they stop and talk.”
Last year, he recalled, a child wrote them an unsigned letter with a hand-drawn picture thanking them for the Chanukah decorations.
Before the big set up, Autin sketches plans on her iPad. Typically, it takes one to two days to arrange the lights and extension cords, trim the second-floor windows in blue and place everything to perfection.
While they usually work together, this year Jordan did all the heavy lifting and climbing the ladder — the couple is expecting their first child any day now. That’s also why they decorated before Thanksgiving week, just in case of an early arrival.
The display is timed to light up at 5 p.m. and turn off at midnight. Jordan and Autin plan to keep it up through Jan. 1.
“Every year I always want to make it a bigger and better display,” Jordan said. And, even as he just put finishing touches on this year’s decorations, he talked about ideas and items to purchase for next year’s #HanukkahHouseDC. One goal: adding music, but he hasn’t found a program or technology that easily plays Chanukah music on a loop.
Jordan doesn’t mind the effort or expense involved in his homegrown Chanukah display. “It’s a way of broadcasting Chanukah. I love that I am able to do something like this. Chanukah is the festival of lights, so I’m just trying to put as many lights out there as I can.”