RIVER FALLS -- Lacey Anderson thought she had taken a wrong turn on her way home from work.

“I honestly didn’t think I was in the right neighborhood,” she said.

Anderson and her two children, 8-year old daughter Brixie and 6-year old son Flynn, pulled up to a crowd of 50 or so people Friday night waving American flags in front of a brightly decorated house in River Falls that at first she wasn’t sure was hers.

“The kids freaked out in the car, like, 'Mom what’s going on?'” she said. “Then they were like, 'Wait! That’s our house!'”

Anderson and her kids had arrived home to a house trimmed in red, white and blue holiday lights, with a giant lighted wreath above the garage door and lights adorning nearly every tree and shrub in the yard. It was a stark contrast to the dark home they had left earlier that morning.

Friends and family of Greg and Lacey Anderson admire the Anderson’s newly decorated family home on Kimberly Circle in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia
Friends and family of Greg and Lacey Anderson admire the Anderson’s newly decorated family home on Kimberly Circle in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

The Andersons had been selected as one of 200 military families across the nation to have their homes decorated for the holidays as part of Christmas Decor’s Decorated Family Program. Anderson’s husband, Sgt. Greg Anderson, is deployed with the 1st Battalion, 1-128th Infantry in Afghanistan. It’s his third deployment overseas, but first since his two kids were born.

That’s where the Decorated Family program comes in.

Now in its 17th year, Christmas Decor franchisees nationwide participate by donating products, resources, and time to decorate the homes of local military families whose loved one are deployed outside of the country for the holiday season. Following the decorating process, each home is revealed during a surprise ceremony with family, friends and neighbors. And that’s what the Andersons came home to Friday night.

“I was stuck in traffic; traffic was awful, and I was in a rush to pick up the kids and get to a basketball game, so this was the last thing I thought would ever happen tonight,” she said. “But it’s so incredible and so awesome.”

The family was nominated for the honor by Lacey’s mother, Julie Gore. She said a golfing buddy had given her a flyer she had received from Green Oasis, a local Christmas Decor contractor, seeking nominations.

“She gave it to me and said, ‘Oh we should nominate Greg and Lacey,’” Gore said. “So I filled out the form and sent it in and I received an email last Friday that they had been selected.”

Green Oasis manager Mitch Kitzrow and his crew spent more than four hours Friday afternoon installing the red, white and blue holiday lights while Anderson was at work in St. Paul and the kids were at school. He said he and his workers were happy to have the opportunity to spread some holiday cheer to the family.

“It’s definitely a cool way for Green Oasis to be able to give back to the veterans and military, and just try to help everybody with their Christmas spirit,” he said.

Gore said the biggest challenge was spreading the word about the plan to friends and family while keeping the secret from her daughter.

“Today has been a challenge, just because I had to talk to her for other reasons,” Gore said. “But I don’t think she has a clue.”

That was evident when Anderson pulled into the garage and her face lit up brighter than the wreath above the door.

“Who did this?” she asked, before throwing her arms in the air and yelling, “Merry Christmas!”

Anderson said the only thing missing from the celebration was her husband, Greg.

“He would go nuts; he would absolutely love it,” she said. “It’s bittersweet because it’s the best Christmas of my life because of this wonderful surprise, but also one of the most difficult because he’s not here.”

Sergeant Greg Anderson, his wife Lacey, and their two children Brixie, age 8, and Flynn, 6, pose for a family photo before Anderson was deployed to Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 1-128th Infantry last July. Photo courtesy of Lacey Anderson
Sergeant Greg Anderson, his wife Lacey, and their two children Brixie, age 8, and Flynn, 6, pose for a family photo before Anderson was deployed to Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 1-128th Infantry last July. Photo courtesy of Lacey Anderson

Half a world away, and half a day later, Sgt. Anderson awoke to a slew of messages on his phone.

“I was confused as to what was going on back home,” he wrote in a Facebook message. “I was completely taken aback at the actions of everyone involved in decorating my house for Lacey, Brixie and Flynn. I am so grateful they had the chance to experience a surprise like that. It puts me more at ease over here.”

Gore said she was just happy the community could brighten up her daughter and grandchildren’s holiday while Greg is serving his country overseas.

“I’m just so glad we were able to do this,” she said. “I’d say it was a success.”