By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Remember when decorating outside for Christmas meant stringing a few strands of lights along the gutter or edge of your roof?
And some would even put a few lights around their small evergreen trees?
Oh, how things have changed.
First there were the blinking lights that became the rage. Then there were icicle lights and chasing lights.
People put out the plastic characters that ranged from reindeer to carolers to Nativity settings to Santa himself.
Then came the big inflatables. Some even risk “life and limb” to climb to the top of their roof to place Christmas decorations.
Yes, yards are filled, trees are all aglow and the electric meters are racing.
Today, the new craze is the computerized controllers that program lights to music. Every night, lights will be flashing on and off for three to four hours at a time. And they will have a little sign in the yard so visitors know what radio station to turn to so they can listen to a variety of popular Christmas songs that will be synced to the dancing lights.
If you go to Watson and turn onto Chaparral Street, you can’t miss one of those homes.
From 5 to 10 every night, trees and decorations will be glowing and dancing. Cars and trucks stop by, tune into 94.7 FM and enjoy the show that includes 8 songs and lasts about 20 minutes.
It’s where Bill Price lives.
And he admits Christmas lights put him in the holiday spirit.
“We bought our first yard ornament in 1984,” Bill recalled. “Tama and I were Christmas shopping and there was a sale on two candy canes. I thought they would look good outside our front door. We also bought 300 or 400 lights.”
After that first year, “I was hooked,” Bill acknowledged.
But that was just the beginning. “Yes, every year it seems to grow a little more and a little more.”
There are 12,000 lights flashing in his yard this year. About 1,600 of those are in his “mega” tree, plus he also has a couple smaller trees, a Marty Fan that looks like a peacock tail, leaping arches, a three-ring snowman, a Singing Santa on the ground and a Santa face on his roof.
There is also a Nativity scene, plus a group of plastic figures that include Mr. and Mrs. Claus, an elf and a Christmas train carrying a very important passenger – some reindeer with a red nose.
Prior to converting to the computerized show, Bill had inflatables, plastic characters and some lights. About six years ago, he purchased a Mr. Christmas set that came pre-programmed and allowed him to synchronize lights on six items.
But in 2013, Bill purchased his first Lights-O-Rama computerized controller. It had 16 ports, giving him 16 options of what to light up. Two years later, he purchased two more controllers, giving him 48 options, and allowing him to increase his lights total from 6,000 to 12,000.
“That’s where I’m at right now,” Bill said. “But I’m not done. I have more ideas running through my head that I’d like to do.”
Bill and his wife, Tama, used to load up the kids – Betsy and Jeremy – and drive around looking at all the Christmas decorations. They still do that, except it’s the grandsons – Airin, Colt and Jensen – in the backseat now.
His first inspiration to go computerized was Randy Huber, from Teutopolis.
“About four or five years ago, I drove over to see what Randy had done,” Bill remembered. “It was the first computerized lights show I had seen. It was fascinating. I pulled into the parking lot and watched his entire show. Then I thought – I want to do this.”
Bill starts selecting the songs and programming the computer early each fall. He does a test run the week prior to Thanksgiving and begins the daily show on Thanksgiving Night. The lights show will continue until the second week of January.
“Before I started, nobody on our block was decorating,” Bill said. “Now others are putting out lights. I wish everybody had Christmas lights out. It makes me happy to see the decorations.”
A couple movies have helped inspire the increase in holiday decorating.
One is “Christmas Vacation,” starring Chevy Chase as the bumbling and over-the-top Clark Griswold, who brought new meaning to the phrase “exterior illumination.”
Bill really liked the movie, but said he is able to decorate without tearing up the house.
A more recent film – “Deck the Halls” – featured the computerized lights. It starred Danny DeVito as Buddy Hall, who was both quite personable and a con artist. To get under the skin of his rather uptight neighbor, played by Matthew Broderick, Buddy started decorating his front yard in a bright, loud and gaudy way.
His goal was to produce such a glow that his yard would be seen from space.
Does Bill share that same goal?
“Absolutely,” he quickly responded.
To help reach that goal, Bill hopes to add more controllers and someday have 40,000 lights.
“They keep coming out with new and better equipment,” he noted. “Who knows what will be next.”