"Clark, is your house on fire"

Visualize if you will, Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation.  We start out pretty much in the same fashion except we don't have huge balls of tangled lights and we don't climb on roofs covered with snow and ice.  We pull everything out the storage areas, check the lights, and start setting it up.  (Side note: We watch Christmas Vacation each year to kick off the event).  It takes about 2 1/2 weeks to get it all up with the help of the elves.   The time it takes to do it all is worth it to see all the smiles it generates each year.

We always put in a request for warm weather since working in the cold each day for 12 to 14 hours isn't a lot of fun.  We normally start on the house because once this is done it gives us enough light to work after dark.  With the shorter days in November we have to utilize every hour to get it all done.  Here you can see the trimming of the house.  (If you are going to do this yourself, you will have to climb a lot of ladders.  Just don't pull any Clark Griswold stunts)

The "Queen of Trees" as we call her, gets busy building the 70 to 80 mini lights trees.  As a side note, we invented these about 30 years ago.  A piece of PVC, and 2 to 3 hundred lights and you have nice little Christmas tree made  of nothing but lights.  Works well when you have a lot of open space to fill.  More on how these are built later. 

In the picture below, you can see the Queen of trees as she measures and constructs a 3 foot mini tree.

The "Mega" trees, which are 10 feet to 20 feet, require a little more work. Our yard has substantial slopes in it so using a cherry picker or scissor lift would not be feasible.  Everything is done from ladders.  With a little ingenuity we come up with different solutions for overcoming the terrain. For the 20 foot tree, we use a telescopic pole.  Standing on a 8 foot ladder, we connect thousands of lights to the top of it.  Then we raise it into the air by sliding each section of the pole up until it is at the height we want it.  Then the lights are tied down at the bottom and connected to the light controller.  Unless you have a strong guy around, don't try too many lights at one time.  Lifting thousands of lights at the same time isn't as easy as it may seem.

Here you see one of the Elves in training. He's learning how to build the mini trees. (Look out Queen. Someone's after your job.) He's a little frustrated that his tree isn't perfect.

I would love to bore you to tears with every step of the process, but we basically keep working until we get to the point that we consider the display is ready for viewing.  I'm reluctant to say " we work until we get it done", because we never really finish.  There's always that one thing that hadn't been done or something new we built or purchased that needs to go up. 

Here's what it looks like from the house once we are "ready for viewing".  Not a lot to look at during the day.

For those of you that like to track our progress and see if we are "done", we always put up the 12' animated star in the back yard as an indicator that we are ready for viewing.  The star seems to be one of the favorites of our visitors.  It was also invented by us over 20 years ago.

As for the electrical, It can be a challenge to get 80,000 lights burning all at one time on a standard 200 amp service.  If you know nothing about residential electrical, then you may want to hire an electrician if you are attempting this yourself.  For ours, we have four subpanels from our main service entry that powers all the lights.  We use about 20 15 amp breakers to light it up.  You are probably having visions of Clark's Griswold's wife flipping the light switch beside what appears to be 50 extensions cords all piggybacked together.  I strongly suggest you not attempt their wiring techniques if you are going to go BIG with your light display.  We literally use miles of extension cords and high power wires to feed all of the lights throughout the yard.  We use several computerized lights controllers to animate the lights.  Here is a picture of the Head Elf after receiving his first light controller for a Christmas present a few years ago.

In a nutshell, after a couple of weeks of work, hundreds of man hours, a few scratches, a few bumps and bruises, a broken fingernail or two, achy backs, a few electrical shocks, sore feet, and a few finishing touches, we call for the drum roll for the big lighting event.  (Clark, did you check all the bulbs).  And if everything went well, it looks something like this:

Clark, is your house on fire?

Keep checking back on this page.  As time permits, I hope to add some details on how some of the displays are built.  Just in case you wanted to know.