5 of the Most Outrageous Christmas Light Displays Ever Set to Music
It started back in 1983, when Chuck Smith of Franklin, Tennessee hooked up his Apple II computer to some Christmas lights. By his account, the resulting strobing, flashing light display was “truly amazing, but the most terrible thing [he’d] ever seen for Christmas.” Next, to the staid, static lights of his neighbors, he felt like a showboater. But just before he could take the things down, a horde of kids flooded out of a car in front of his house, thrilled at his latest innovation. “I knew I was onto something,” he told the Washington Post.
So began the long, storied saga of folks combining their holiday spirit, tech-savvy, and lots and lots of free time into hundreds of gloriously over-the-top Christmas light displays across the country. After Chuck Smith opened the door, it didn’t take long for thousands of other excitable exhibitionists to barrel right through it, vamping on his original idea. Before too long, music entered the equation, and the world of synchronized Christmas light displays transformed from a close-knit community of holiday enthusiasts to a genuine countrywide sensation.
Nowadays, a twinkle here and a strobe there seem pretty tame compared to the dubstep-fueled holiday raves you see on YouTube. To help you filter out the gaudy from the inspired, we picked out five of the best (in no particular order).
- Carsen Williams’ “Christmas Lights Gone Wild”
An oldie, but a goodie nonetheless. The floodgates for musical light displays burst open in 2005 when an electrical engineer named Carson Williams uploaded this video to the forum Planet Christmas. The performance, synched to the chugging arena rock of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Wizards in Winter,” garnered a lot of attention from fellow would-be enthusiasts, and within a year, it was a viral phenomenon. Chances are you watched the video at 240p more than 10 years ago, stunned by the hilarious audacity of the spectacle. It was the first to blow up on video, but it wouldn’t be the last.
- Trista Lights’ 2016 Christmas Light Show
Aside from featuring the worst version of “Winter Wonderland” we’ve ever heard (see 4:26), this light show is among the most technologically sophisticated of the modern era. Featuring flexible pixel light nets set up to act like lo-fi LED displays, each “screen” can display all kinds of holiday shenanigans. With everything from a pixelated Santa and his elves grooving to a chopped and screwed “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” to an incredible, flowing ripple effect at 7:34, it’s hard to imagine the painstaking effort it took to calibrate each individual dot in this complicated matrix.
- 2016 Johnson Family Dubstep Light Show
Somewhere down the line, Skrillex’s “Bangarang” from 2011 became the unofficial anthem of Christmas spectacle (along with the aforementioned “Wizards in Winter” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra). So if you’re watching these for the music, well, good luck. But whether you’re gung-ho about blistering bass music from a simpler time, or you’d prefer to listen to reindeer antlers roll around in the dryer, you can dazzle at the sheer bombast of this Christmas light display. If you look closely you can even see the eight spotlights beaming columns of blinding white light hundreds of feet into the December sky.
- 2014 Yucaipa Full Neighborhood Display
The folks who live on Manning Street in Yucaipa, California have gained a bit of a reputation over the past decade or so. Every year more than a dozen homes link up Christmas light displays for a show that spans blocks, everything kept perfectly in sync with the technical wizardry of one Jeff Maxey. While we couldn’t find the perfect video to do the show the justice it deserves, just imagine what it would be like to take a wrong turn down Manning Street late one cold December night — you’d have to wonder whether someone spiked your cocoa.
- The Larsen’s 2017 Display
Now if you’re interested in a more straightforward, yet still wildly complex dance of more than a million bright lights, this 2017 display from the Larsen family should be your go-to. With a massive house and yard absolutely covered in decorations, this display still manages to maintain an aesthetic clarity pretty much unrivaled by competitors. There’s a reason, after all, that these guys won ABC’s “The Great Light Fight” back in 2013.
The best Christmas light displays can spark a flicker of holiday cheer in even the scroogiest of hearts — especially if you can look past the tunes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, after watching dozens of strobe-heavy dubstep-drenched light shows, this writer is going to go rest his eyes.