The JimOnLight Guide to Christmas Lights, Parts 1-5

Back another year by popular demand and thousands of visits, the’s Guide to Christmas Lights is here!  To break this down a bit and hopefully keep the five parts of the Guide to Christmas Lights:


Part One is geared towards sharing where Christmas Lighting got its start, including going WAY back to talk a bit about what actually happens in the sky around Christmas time (or Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Flying Spaghetti Monster time, or whatever flavor of religion you pick for the Holidays) and how we’ve been dealing with it for a few thousand years.


Part Two takes some of the most basic information about Christmas lighting – the light sources – and breaks them down for the reader to make it easy to understand and identify different kinds of Christmas Lights.  You know, for that moment when you have to pull the ball of lights out of the box in the garage and actually NOT burn your house down.


Rain lights, curtain strands, cascades, and all kinds of other terms that mean something about the different arrays that Christmas lighting come in – Part Three of the’s Guide to Christmas Lighting is all about telling those arrays apart so you can get back inside and drink some Wassail!


This is an important one – Part Four talks about how NOT to get yourself dead while doing all of that Christmas light installation!


…not last, not least, and definitely not the end of the series, but perhaps one of my favorites!  A quick overview of some of the basic and important electrical equations that can help you make a little more sense out of the task of hanging Holiday Illumination!

Drop us a comment below if you like the’s Guide to Christmas Lights – we’re dedicated to bringing you the best!

Christmas Lights in Perth, Australia

Christmas lighting is still in fashion, at least until the New Year, right?  We always took ours down sometime after the first of January, so take that as a hint, all of you “leave them up until April” people!

I saw an interesting post on CNN’s iReport site about a family in Perth (Australia) that has a massive Christmas lighting display – they also made a bunch of bread on it that they donated to a local children’s hospital.  This Christmas light display raised $22,000+ last year!  They’re shooting for $30,000 this year. (ps: I would have embedded the CNN video, except there was no way to turn off the autoplay feature – which would have annoyed you all. Cnn, don’t you want people to embed your videos?)

The creator is a guy named Kym Illman, the CEO of a company called Messages On Hold.  This beast is 176 channels of control, over 6 kilometers of cable, and 50,000 LEDs.  Watch this video of Kym Illman on Perth’s “Today” show:

Here is their display video – can you believe how much stuff is in that rig?!

Thanks, MoH!

Guitar Hero Christmas Lights Creator Speaks with!


After posting the article about Guitar Hero christmas lighting this morning, I was able to get ahold of the display’s designer to ask him some questions about how and what he did to have such a great display.  The designer’s name is Ric, and he was gracious enough to answer some questions I had about his work and his background.  I hope everyone enjoys the little interview I was able to get with Ric about his rig and his process.  Check it out!  Also check out the Light-O-Rama site for the control stuff mentioned in the article – very cool!

JimOnLight: Do you have a background in lighting? Your display and control is impressive – I am curious as to if you’re a professional or a hobbyist with some skill!

Ric: I’ve done some lighting, but most of my background is in media production and theatrical style illusions. The Christmas Light show is really more of a media presentation with lots of light edits in time with the music, made like a music video.

JimOnLight: How did you come about the idea of having such a large christmas light rig? Was there a muse or inspiration of some sort that led you to put it together?

Ric: I’ve always loved doing Holiday light displays, and years ago I experimented with simple sequencers. Eventually I was able to put together my first show using MIDI controlled dimmers and programmed it in Garage Band on a Mac laptop. The year after that I discovered Light-o-Rama kits and started building them. Each year more controllers get built and the shows get more elaborate.

JimOnLight: What types of lighting you use for your display? I assume that there are a mix of LED and incandescent lamps – can you give me some insight into your mix?

Ric: I’m starting to use LEDs more and more. I love the single color strings that punch through everything with dichroic style – single frequency light. Especially the blue and violet. LEDs switch on and off instantly allowing stunning music sync. I still have a lot of incandescent lights for the big white moments. I’m not happy with the white LEDs yet, the color temperatures are all over the map, even within a single string. There is a warmth to the white incancesdents that still can’t be matched with LEDs.

JimOnLight: Please tell me about your control system – we would love to have some insight! Are you using some kind of timecode (MIDI, SMPTE), or do you have something proprietary that you’ve created?

Ric: I started with MIDI, but quickly got frustrated with the limitations. Light-o-Rama controllers offer amazingly cheap cost per channel. I usually buy 16 channel kits for around $100. I experimented with some bank switching circuits to allow one board to control separate sets of lights, but that turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. To do the 09 xmas show I added three new controllers for a total of 7. LOR software is quite good, and has been able to handle everything I have come up with.

JimOnLight: Do you provide a way for your neighbors and passersby to listen to your inspiration music to your display?

Ric: The audio plays at a low level until around 9:00 for pedestrians. Any time the show is running, the audio is broadcast on a low power FM transmitter so people can listen in their cars as loud as they like.

JimOnLight: Something that everyone probably wants to know – how are your electricity bills?

Ric: Not bad at all! Compared to the last year we had a static display, the shows use about 75% less energy, mainly due to the fact that in a show any given light is off much more than it is on. Now with all the LEDs, power use is down even more.

Ric, thank you so much for your time!  Everyone should check out Ric’s youtube channel (he’s kumbaric on youtube) – he’s got videos galore and lots of skill!  Enjoy!