Bright lights in the village

By on December 20, 2013

Local resident wins national recognition for Christmas lights
CAMPTON HILLS—Brian Larsen recently received national acclaim for a Christmas display he calls a “labor of love.”

“Some guys collect Corvettes and Porsches,” Larsen said. “I do Christmas lights.”

The 37-year-old father of three on Monday won a nation-wide contest for the Christmas light display on his home in Campton Hills. Larsen, who owns Countywide Landscaping, began decorating his house when he bought it in 1996. Back then, the display was just “regular static lights,” he said.

When Larsen was a boy in nearby Batavia, he and his family used to go on tours of other people’s Christmas lights. “Heavy into Christmas,” he and his family would also go Christmas caroling and enjoy other holiday activities.

“Christmas is a big part of my life,” he said. “And when I got my own house, I had the freedom to do what I wanted.”

A few years ago, he began to get ambitious and competitive with his displays.

People began showing up in their cars to get a look—and a listen—to the light display he had synchronized with bombastic Christmas music. Each year, he would add more lights and different kinds of decorations. He said he stopped counting lights three years ago at 778,000.

His Beith Road home became a destination for people in the area, as they would arrive as it got dark and park along the road near his house, at times becoming quite a crowd. He said just knowing that people are out there enjoying it puts a smile on his face.

Self-taught in the science of synchronizing music to the lights, Larsen said he’s “one of those geeks who sits up at night watching YouTube,” which is how he picked up the skills.

“It’s a big community,” he said. “Putting lights to music has really taken off. Everybody’s doing it.”

He has 30 programmed songs, 20 of which he’s using this year. He said it takes him about 80 hours to program a song.

This year, he was approached by the creators of the TV show, “The Great Christmas Light Fight,” to take part in the nationwide contest.

Michael Maloney and Sabrina Soto, hosts of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover,” were the judges for “The Great Christmas Light Fight,” and the object of the program was to create the most spectacular outdoor display in just three weeks.

Putting in 15-16-hour days with the help of his friends, he accomplished in 21 days what typically takes him three months. The camera crew was there for about eight days, and after that, they used time-lapsed photography to capture the work-in-progress.

Larsen said that this year’s display is by far his favorite. He added 1,200 strobe lights and estimates that by now, there are about 1 million lights in all. There are 37 lighted trees and 24 programmable panels of lights of text and graphics featured on the sides of the house.

The lights are all energy-efficient LEDs, so his electric bill is only about an extra $200 a month while the display is active.

This year, Larsen also paved a parking lot for viewers to get in off of the street, and his father set up a concession where he can sell pulled pork and beef sandwiches, hot dogs and hot chocolate. The lot can fit 50 cars.

Larsen said he plans to continue doing the displays as long as he is physically able. He loves people’s reactions to the light show. He said that a man proposed marriage to his girlfriend out in front of the lights a few nights ago. And elderly people show up in buses on a regular basis to view the light show.

A few years ago, a man who had recently lost his job told Larsen that the lights made him feel better.

Winning the contest will gain him $50,000. When asked what he’s going to do with the money, he said he was going to hire someone to take down the lights.

“There’s no glory in taking them down,” he said with a laugh.

Photos by Lynn Logan