Leesburg residents don’t need to go far to see some impressive light displays. Several residents have made holiday light shows their business, both literally and figuratively, to the delight of their neighbors and other locals.
The gold standard locally seems to be Edwards Landing Lights, which has been entertaining as many as 250 people per hour since 2011. Brandon Bullis aspired to put on his own holiday show since the early 2000s, when his young daughter, now a freshman at the University of Alabama, would enjoy the nightly shows put on by their Dallas, TX, neighbor.
“She would sit and stare out the windows. It was our nightly thing to do for several years. I always said, ‘I’m going to build one of those,’” he recalled.
Fast forward to New Year’s Day 2011, when he saw a show on television about some of the mega light shows around the country and he decided that was the year to start. He started sketching out a train, similar to the one used in their former neighbor’s home which went around the front yard.
“Halfway through the train I started to look at making similar features with blinking lights to make it look animated and I ran across hardware that does blinking to music. I said ‘I’m going to do that with the train.’”
He started his house-lighting venture with Halloween, but he brokered a deal with his wife that if he was going to do a Halloween show, he had to do a Christmas one, too.
“Every year I’ve built on a little bit from there,” Bullis said.
This year, he says his Christmas light show contains about 12,000 lights. A new show begins every 30 minutes, with a soundtrack that can be heard through an FM radio broadcast. On any given night during the holiday season, throngs of spectators line his neighborhood sidewalks, watching the show from the comfort of their heated cars, or even lawn chairs with blankets. He’s used the show to raise close to $25,000 in donations for John Hopkins Hospital since he started.
Every year Bullis tweaks both his Halloween and Christmas shows, taking into account what he feels did and didn’t work. “It’s usually tweaks most people don’t see,” he acknowledges.
Programming just one song for the show takes about 40 hours, he said. He tries to add at least one new song a year.
The Edwards Landing Lights Christmas show will start about two weeks before Christmas, Bullis said, and will run nightly through Christmas night. The show usually runs every 30 minutes from 7-9 p.m., but any changes to the schedule, as well as general rules for the light show, are posted at facebook.com/edwardslandinglights, where you also can send a message to get the house address.
Although Bullis’ show may be the local industry icon, others are quickly catching on and creating their own buzz. Geoffrey Mansker, of Potomac Station Illumination, has been putting on his light show at 706 Vermillion Drive for the past four years. Interestingly, he also got the inspiration for his show from his former home in Texas, when he was stationed in San Antonio.
“I said, ‘I can probably do something like that,’ and I purchased my first controller,” he recalled.
He’s been steadily growing his show ever since and continued the tradition upon the family’s move to Leesburg. He’s just about completed putting up all the lights and décor for this year’s Christmas show, which he expects to debut by this weekend.
As technology has evolved over the years, the lights in his show have become easier to control.
“In the beginning years, it was an insane amount of work programming. First, we had incandescent lights and you only had the option of coming on or off or limiting power. Every time you see a light come on and flicker it was a separate extension cord going to that set of lights,” Mansker said. “Since then technology has come a long way. There’s more programming aspects but the lights are a lot easier to control.”
As most of the lights are now LED, Mansker shares the surprising fact that his electricity bill is less during the holiday season than what most would pay, since he’s not continuously running power to the lights.
He also tries to add or tweak the show every year, and usually tries to do a blend of fun Christmas songs combined with old favorites and some religious selections. Mansker also adds new props every year, and this year’s new addition is two 4-foot-long holly berries that light up in different colors.
Mansker said the community of those who put on holiday light shows is very close, and they often share ideas or even large batches of equipment if need be.
“We don’t compete with each other,” he said. “The more people that are enjoying [the shows], the better.”
The Potomac Station Illumination show will run nightly starting about 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends. Start times are adjusted as the sun sets earlier. More information on the show can be found at facebook.com/psillumination.
The Leesburg Lights show, at 626 Marshall Drive, was born out of a homeowner’s association home decorating contest back when the Christophy family still lived in Sterling’s CountrySide neighborhood.
“It started three years ago and it just started to get out of hand from there,” Dimis Christophy said with a laugh.
The original show ran off six-channel preprogrammed lights, but “our association didn’t think that was fun,” so Christophy decided to upgrade the following year.
“I came across a network of other individuals who do the same thing,” he recalled. “I did more research and found out there’s a lot more involved than plugging [lights] in and letting it have fun.”
This Christmas marks Christophy’s second show since moving to town and, this year, he’s gone all digital. The 2018 Christmas show features 6,000 lights with over 18,000 channels.
“All the lights are pixels, everything you’ll see is handmade by me and everything is controlled through software and programming done by me,” he said.
He started work for this year’s show while last year’s Christmas show was still running and estimates he put in close to 300 to 400 hours working on the 2018 edition, including programming, wiring and building props. All this while the family of five is expecting the arrival of child number four imminently.
Not having a technical background, Christophy admitted it was “a big learning curve” when he started dabbling in the light shows. But, now with a few shows under his belt, he’s started being sought out by others who want him to set up shows for them.
The Leesburg Lights show will run nightly from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. through Jan. 7. Spectators will also have the opportunity to donate to local law enforcement and the Wounded Warriors program through donation boxes on the front lawn. For more information, go to facebook.com/christophychristmaslightshow.