Dancing Christmas Lights

Published December 12, 2018

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright. So do the many light displays you’ll find all around Southeastern Indiana.

Growing up I can remember being in awe of the light displays at places like Weberding’s Carving Shop in Batesville and Roman Nobbe Concrete outside of Oldenburg. Now as a grown adult, I still marvel at such grand displays. While I personally don’t light up my home to the extent that Clark Griswold did on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, I do wrap a few strands around my porch and deck for passers-by to enjoy.  In turn, I traditionally dedicate at least one night during the season to drive around and see the work that other folks have put into lighting up their homes. Lucky for me, though, I can watch one of the best displays around any night of the week, just by looking out my front window.

My neighbor has spent countless hours designing a wonderful dancing light display that runs from 6:00-9:00 every night until Christmas. Passers-by can tune into 87.9 to listen to the music that accompanies the flashing display. While the finished product is absolutely amazing it got me wondering just what is involved in making Christmas lights flash to music.

According to wikihow, synchronizing your lights to music can be done in 12 steps (notice the omission of the word ‘easy’ in that description). While some of the steps are obvious (ie wiki’s step #2 involves stocking up on lights), others are way over my head.  But some of the key take-aways from the instructions included:

-Lights are grouped by channels. A channel is a unit of lights that can be controlled individually.  One set of lights draped over a bush is considered a channel.

-Technical equipment needed for dancing lights includes such items as a controller to communicate with your computer, a solid state relay to switch the lights on, and software to break down the songs into short segments for you to program your channel of lights.

-You can buy fully-built control systems or these can be homemade.  Likewise, software can be purchased that has coding already done for various songs, but if you want to use your own arrangement of music or want to entertain for hours, your own coding will probably be needed.

-A typical strand of mini-lights draws about 1/3 amp. Even the smaller displays need about 32-64 channels (or strands/units of light) for a good visual effect, so keep in mind the amount of power needed to successfully produce your display.

-Do not use flashing lights in the display, as these flash at set intervals that cannot be changed.

-wikihow and many other sites stress that developing a light show can be a very time-intensive project (duh!). Most sites suggest allowing yourself months to create a substantial light show, and to invite some help along the way.

-Be sure to advertise your work AND let passers-by know how to tune in to hear your music, whether it’s via speakers or an FM frequency.

If you’re out canvasing light displays around Southeastern Indiana, be sure to drop by holiday light shows like my neighbor’s house at Lake Santee, the Letts Lights at 6831 S CR 460 West near South Decatur High School, or at 11870 North County Road 800 East in Butlerville (Jennings County). What a bright time, it’s the right time! Just hop in your sleigh, go for a ride and enjoy all the work these homeowners have put into helping make your season bright!