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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Light displays around Alachua County offer a way to celebrate the holiday season amid the pandemic

Spectators can drive in their own cars, safe from the outside world

<p>Logan Euler, 19, runs a light show at his dad&#x27;s house in Newberry, Fla. Starting Dec. 3, 2020, cars can tune into a radio station as they drive by to hear the curated music and messages from the show every night  from 6-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. </p>

Logan Euler, 19, runs a light show at his dad's house in Newberry, Fla. Starting Dec. 3, 2020, cars can tune into a radio station as they drive by to hear the curated music and messages from the show every night from 6-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

It’s easier to put up lights without snow.

At least for Logan Euler, a 19-year-old programmer in Newberry, it is. He is one of many Alachua County residents who set up lights for the holiday season. Hundreds of homeowners in the county spend weeks organizing elaborate light shows to celebrate Christmas and the holiday season.

Euler’s display can be found at his Newberry home located at 25261 SW 20th Ave. The light show is from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays. Fridays and Saturdays it’s from 6 p.m. to midnight. 

Euler and his family moved from Indiana to Newberry in late 2018 — a few months before Christmas. Growing up in the snow, the family used trash bags to cover the electrical wires to prevent the lights from breaking. Euler, who has been participating since he was 10, said he’s considering adding a snow machine to the show to bring a northern feel to the Sunshine State.

The show’s setup is a family event, Euler said. His father spends the year traveling the country working on industrial machinery, so the light show offers an opportunity for the family to work on something together. 

“We all spend a week and a half, if not more, setting up the display,” he said. “I would have to say that's my favorite memory.”

Euler promotes his show on Facebook and it even has a website. More than 3,600 other holiday-light fanatics have taken to a Facebook page called “Gainesville Area Christmas Light Displays” to find and promote different shows in the county. The admin of the page, which was created in 2015, maintains a Google Map with pins of different light shows for users to visit each year. 

Shows like Euler’s encourage people to enjoy the lights from the car by setting up FM radio signals. Viewers can tune their car radios to a specific frequency to hear holiday music synced with the lights.

Kendra Fields, a 36-year-old elementary school teacher in Gainesville, uses the Facebook page to plan light show viewings with her family. She takes her husband and 4-year-old twins, Scarlett and Theodore, to see lights in the county.

“They are as excited to see Christmas lights as they are to go to Disney,” Fields said.

Both Fields and her husband are teachers potentially exposed to COVID-19 on a daily basis through their jobs. Fields said she tries to limit her family’s exposure when she can. Viewing Christmas lights from the car is a safe way for her family to celebrate the season.

“It's definitely an activity that is tailor-made for social distancing,” Fields said.

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Bill Holmes, a 74-year-old retired Alachua resident, also has a FM signal to go with his light show. Consisting of more than 50,000 lights and two miles of extension cords, Holmes has been lighting up his 5-acre property for 15 years.

Holmes’ light show at 7904 NW 170th St. in Alachua runs every night from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. until Jan 3. 

“I don't think there's anybody in the entire county that has a private light show this size,” he said.

Despite the massive power output, Holmes said he runs his lights through a custom-built computer to make the system more energy efficient. The power bill increase is the cheapest part of the show, he said. His electricity bill, he said, increases by about $125 this time of year because of the lights.

Setting up the lights is a monthslong process starting in September, Holmes said, when he moves all of the lights out of storage buildings on his property. He tests each light individually in October and usually replaces 750 to 1,500 lights, he said. Holmes starts to set up the display in November and said he tries to complete it by the Saturday after Thanksgiving, if possible.

Holmes said he has also been Santa in the Alachua Christmas Parade for the past 14 years, including this year. He said he recalls looking at lights with his parents as a child. Growing up in a Navy family, Holmes said he got to see different light displays across the country.

“I know it brings a lot of joy and happiness to a lot of people,” Holmes said. “To me, that's what Christmas is: bringing some happiness in somebody else's life.”

Contact Steven at swalker@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @swalker_7.

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