Donna and René Esnard fill their home and yard with lights each Christmas, a gift to their Zeeland Place neighborhood.
For the Esnards, the holidays are a time of joy and giving as well as a time of memory of their son, Ryan, who died in a car accident Nov. 30, 1998.
“The lights started as a tribute to my son,” René Esnard said. “With so many lights, I know my son will be able to see our house from heaven.”
The Esnards, who live at the corner of Hundred Oaks and Arlington avenues, light both the front and side yards the old-fashioned way, with a combination of white and colored lights.
“We don’t have a theme, just lights,” René Esnard said.
“And no inflatables,” Donna Esnard added. “We like the traditional (not LED) lights. There’s something nostalgic about that.”
Stringing the more than 100 strands of lights takes about 21/2 weeks, including hours and hours perched on ladders.
On the anniversary of Ryan’s death, the couple flips the on switch.
“We turn them on on Nov. 30, come hell or high water,” René Esnard said.
Adam Ostrowe, of Cajun Electric, checks the lights and is always on stand-by in case of a light emergency.
“We have his number on speed dial,” Donna Esnard said with a laugh.
The first year after Ryan’s death, René Esnard’s cousin, Richard Ellis, made a big illuminated star, which the Esnards hang in the front yard. They call it the Star of Ryan.
Six years ago, the Esnards’ daughter, Shay Schilling, had her son Joseph.
“Our good friend, David Whatley, made us another star, the Star of Joseph,” René Esnard said.
Three years ago, the Esnards added another star when a second grandson, Benjamin, was born. The three stars hang in a prominent place in the front yard.
Every night, René Esnard makes sure all is well, all is light.
“If he comes home and a six-inch strand is out, the world stops,” Donna Esnard said. “The lights have to be fixed immediately. He can’t sleep if lights are out.”
The Esnards love when people, especially families with children, drive by to see the lights, which come on about 5:20 p.m. and stay lit until midnight.
“We are kids at heart,” René Esnard said.
In early January, René Esnard takes down the lights, wrapping and tagging each strand and storing them in plastic bins at his mother-in-law’s house.
Both native Baton Rougeans, the Esnards grew up very near where they live now.
“In those days, it seemed that almost every house had Christmas decorations, but you don’t see as many decorated houses now,” René Esnard said. “Maybe people just don’t have the time, so we do these decorations for them.”