It was while separated from his family, sitting in the sweltering heat of the Egyptian desert, that the idea came to Steve Maruk.
He was saying his longing for Christmas decorations and snow by watching Christmas videos on YouTube when he discovered houselights set to music. The rhythmic flashing and pulsing captivated the Stettler man, whose wife and son were back in the community while he worked for oil in the Middle East.
“I told myself I was going to do that when I got home,” Maruk said. “It was Christmas away from my family, and there’d been several Christmases away from them.” The dream of returning home to spend Christmas with his family, and creating a majestic musical lightshow, kept him going through the rough times that were to come.
Maruk was working in Egypt during the “Arab Spring,” a revolution that saw the Egyptian government overthrown and the Muslim Brotherhood take power. It wasn’t long after that the military staged a coup, unseating the Brotherhood and imprisoning its leader. All the while, the Muslim terrorist group, ISIL, was threatening the company Maruk worked for.
“It was an everyday thing,” he said. “You paid attention to it, but didn’t let it get to you.”
Still, Maruk dreamed of Christmas with his family. Whether or not he’d be able to go home that year depended on the political situation, because unless it stabilized, it wouldn’t be safe for Maruk to be out and about.
After the death of a colleague, and given the continuing destabilization of the safety situation in Egypt, Maruk finally made his way home to Canada, meeting his newborn son Nash and reuniting with his wife, Candace and son, Gage. And still, he dreamed of Christmas lights.
“I’m lucky that she lets me do this,” Maruk said of his wife, Candace. “I couldn’t do this if she wasn’t on board.”
Maruk began scouring the Internet for information and materials, and soon lights, cables, wires and other electronics began to fill up space in his home. The first time the Maruks did the Christmas lights to music was last year, and it took a long time to get it set up.
“People would see me up there, go about their business and come back and still see me up there,” Maruk said. Hand-making all the wires he needed for the spectacle took a bruising 11 hours. The end result, though, was worth it.
“We had a lot of traffic come by,” Maruk said of the show last Christmas. “People would park and watch. Then they’d come back with their friends.”
Having seen first-hand the poverty in which some of the people he worked with, or had working for him, in Egypt lived, Maruk said he felt compelled to use his home’s sudden tourist-destination status to do good. So this year, the family decided to try to help the community through collecting donations for the Stettler and District Food Bank.
“It took about 24 man-hours to set up,” Maruk said. “I added lights to the roof, and even if no one else would know they were crooked, I would. All those little clips take time to set up.”
On the first night the lights and music powered up this year, Maruk collected about 100 pounds of food and $75, which was given to the food bank. And while the family just intended it to be a one-night thing, they instead decided to leave out a box for foodbank donations, and has been regularly stopping in at the food bank to deliver the offerings coming in.
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, Maruk said.
“One woman came by and started dancing,” he said. “When I went and talked to her, she said ‘This lights up my life.'”
And for Maruk, that was exactly the point.
You can catch the lights every night until 10 p.m. at Maruk’s home on 63 Street. When in the vicinity of the Maruk home, tune in to 88.5 FM to pick up the music.