Sights, not sounds: Fourth of July decorating contests recapture holiday revelry
Diana Laufenberg has recaptured the sights -- if not the sounds -- of Glen Ellyn revelry on the Fourth of July.
On a far quieter Independence Day weekend, residents won't hear marching bands, firetruck sirens, block party music or the applause that greeted the parachute jumper hyping up the crowd for last year's fireworks at Lake Ellyn.
But Laufenberg and her family aren't letting COVID-19 cancellations deprive the town of some of the holiday sparkle.
With their creative talents, Laufenberg, her husband, Nick, and their two kids, Nathan and Grace, decked out their front porch with star-spangled finery to partake in a Fourth of July decorating contest.
A handful of other towns like Carol Stream, Lincolnshire and Northbrook have their own versions, but the granddaddy of them all is Glen Ellyn's contest, where more than 40 entries feature day and nighttime displays.
"It's at a perfect time, just when we needed a little something fun to do this summer," Laufenberg said. "It's magical."
The decorating themes run the gamut. Some are wistful, like the empty lawn chairs staking out what would have been a spot along the parade route.
Others have deeper relevance, encouraging people to vote and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
Still other displays are unique to Glen Ellyn. Diana Martinez, who suggested the contest idea to Glen Ellyn's Fourth of July committee, put a replica of the village's iconic horse trough in her front yard, along with a life-size figure of Frida Kahlo, a nod to her art exhibition coming to the College of DuPage next summer.
"There are some really amazing ones," says Amy Keating, a committee member and one of the contest judges. "You can tell people really put a lot of effort into thinking out what they wanted to do. There's lots of colors, lots of flags, lots of different focuses."
The Laufenbergs wanted to go all out with the red, white and blue at their Bryant Avenue home.
"We usually decorate our home for the holidays, but this year I really wanted to bring joy and happiness and something fun and unexpected when you drove by," Diana Laufenberg said.
So the family sat down one night for dinner, took out some paper and brainstormed their ideas. They spent a Saturday afternoon putting it all together.
Her kids spray painted stars on the lawn. Their bikes stand ready with streamers, as if the two-wheelers are about to whiz down Linden Street in the parade. The staging of a picnic spread and buntings galore complete the scene.
More decorations will pop up in time for today, when Nathan will turn 11 and the winners are announced.
Even if they don't claim a prize, Laufenberg was glad to show her appreciation for what volunteers normally orchestrate every Fourth solely through donations and sponsorships.
"I grew up in Glen Ellyn and have been going to the parade and fireworks and been a part of it my whole life, and I absolutely love it," she said.
Committee members have posted an online map to encourage people to drive around town and generate foot traffic for 10 participating businesses. Judges will pick winners in the categories of most patriotic, most creative and best overall.
Winners will receive prize baskets with a combined value of more than $2,000, including tickets to the Frida Kahlo show, gift certificates and Glen Ellyn swag.
In Carol Stream, the village already has named the winners of its decorating contest: the first-place honor goes to 202 Coachlite Trail, second place to 1214 Easton Drive, and third place to 871 Omaha Court.
Judges will select winners Monday from 11 entries in the #LincolnshireStrong Independence Day decorating contest. Residents can still cast an online vote for the Community's Choice award.
During Northbrook's 4th of July Porch Parade, the village will provide giveaways along the route of displays from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday. First- and second-place winners will be awarded in four categories -- overall best, most patriotic, most original and "most likely to make you smile."
Jacki and Steve Ruhs' house is one of the contenders.
"We're going to try to make it the most normal but not-normal Fourth of July," she said.
"I'll be throwing candy at my kids in the front yard."
• Northbrook Herald staff writer Dave Oberhelman contributed.