Lighting up the night: Next door neighbors have some fun with holiday tradition

Dean Thompson adds to his dazzling holiday display every year. Neighbor Ryan Schafer said he can't compete with that.

The "ditto" sign in Ryan and Lindsey Schafer's yard says it all, pointing to their friendly neighbors' dazzling holiday lights. (Dennis Doeden / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- If you live next door to Bemidji’s version of Clark Griswold, how do you compete?

You don’t.

You just have a sign that reads “DITTO” and points to the neighbor’s dazzling holiday light display.

It’s all in fun for Dean Thompson and Ryan Schafer, who live on Birchmont Drive Northeast about a mile north of Diamond Point Park.

“They are the best neighbors you could ever have,” Dean said of Ryan and Lindsey Schafer and their four young children.


“We hit the neighbor jackpot,” Ryan said, pointing to Dean and Mary Ann Thompson’s home next door.

Griswold is Chevy Chase’s character in the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” whose epic light display causes a citywide power shortage.

Dean Thompson, a retired jewelry store owner, has been enamored with holiday lights ever since he was a young child. His father, Dewain Thompson, used to light up the family’s house and yard on Bemidji Avenue North.

Following in his dad’s footsteps, Dean has been adding lights to his display for the past 10 years or so, making it one of the “must see” spots in town.

“I try to add things every year,” he said.

As Dean was busy putting up this year’s display, he and Ryan were visiting one evening. “I was like, ‘You know there’s no way I can compete with you, and I don’t even want to try,'” Ryan said.

That’s when the idea of a “DITTO” sign came up, and by the next night, it became a reality.

“We laughed about it,” Thompson said, “so I actually made that sign the next day. It’s connected to my stuff, so when I turn mine on it lights up, too.”


Ryan added, “I told him if he wants to put anything else in my yard I’m happy to host more of his decorations.”

Halloween is the Schafers’ holiday to shine. “Lindsey loves Halloween,” Ryan said. “We don’t compete with (Dean) on Christmas, but every year we get more Halloween stuff, so I guess that’s what we’re maybe going to be known for.”

Most years, the Thompsons wait until Thanksgiving to turn on their holiday lights. But this year they made a special event of it on Nov. 21, inviting their daughter's family and the Schafers.

“With all the COVID stuff, it’s time to put a smile on somebody’s face,” Dean said.

We can all say “DITTO” to that.

The Thompsons usually wait until Thanksgiving to turn on their holiday lights, but this year they delighted family and neighbors with an early ceremony on Nov. 21. “With all the COVID stuff, it’s time to put a smile on somebody’s face,” Dean Thompson said. Submitted photo.

Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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