- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Since he was a kid growing up in Springfield, Mass., Michael Bell has been fascinated by lights and electronics.
A neighbor had a Christmas display, just hard plastic molds of snowmen and Santas, nothing too fancy, and he helped her set it up.
Bell would go on tours of the neighborhood, looking at lights, seeing what other people were putting up to celebrate the holiday.
When he was 12 or 13, he had saved up enough money to buy some Christmas lights, and his parents didn’t object to his ideas about decorating the house.
So, he did, and it sparked an interest that he has carried with him.
Currently, Bell estimates that he has about 120,000 lights in his stock.
Last year, 46,000 of them were on his Waldorf house, sequenced to music that played over a radio station he runs.
He spends all year working on the display.
“Well, I usually take January off,” Bell said. “I start thinking about it in February. … It’s usually all planned out by June.”
He’ll spend one weekend a month on the details of the display creating software and designs, and picking the music that will be used.
This year, he switched to LED lights and used about 5,000 of them.
He also developed software that would make sequencing easier.
He does have a life wife, Jody, stepdaughter, Paige, 7, and son, Ian, 18 months, like to have him around.
“I wanted a display, but I also wanted a family life,” said Bell about creating time-saving software that allows him to live-stream videos on the front of his house while the lights cascade in waves of red, blue, green and white.
He hopes to get a video of his kids cutting out various shapes using construction paper and display the footage on the house while the lights swirl and twirl to holiday tunes and popular songs like “Lights,” by Ellie Goulding, “Gangnam Style” by PSY and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of “Over the Rainbow.”
Extreme house decorating has caught on with a segment of the population, Bell said, usually with those who have an interest or background in engineering. About 300,000 to 400,000 people worldwide are involved, swapping ideas and tips on message boards like DIYChristmas.com or diylightanimation.com.
Bell said that every once in a while, there will be a knock on his door during the display, which runs from 5 to 10 p.m. daily through Jan. 2, and it will be a retired engineer asking about details.
The display is a hit with his kids.
Paige asks if they can go outside and watch the lights. Ian burbles “lights, lights” and dances along with the music.
Bell has become the go-to guy in the neighborhood when it comes to decorating with Christmas lights (the Bells are the family that decorates for every holiday, he said).
Windsor Mill is a neighborhood of young families; Halloween brings out legions of trick-or-treaters, and Christmas displays pop up on lawns once Thanksgiving passes.
Bell wants the whole neighborhood to get in on the holiday celebration.
He can see sequencing other homes in the neighborhood to his, even if it’s just a string of lights here or there.
A few cars have stopped by with Christmas trees strapped to the roofs.
Families driving up, looking at light displays, probably kicking off the season, Bell said.
“I’d like to see the entire neighborhood lit up,” he said. “Nearly every house is a family with young kids. I want to up the ‘neat’ factor to the ‘wow’ factor.”
This year, the Bell family is collecting donations for Charles County Children’s Aid Society. Bell’s wife is a teacher at Arthur Middleton Elementary School, and the couple wanted to do something to help children.
Children’s Aid provides assistance to Charles County families with children.
The organization gives away clothing, food, school supplies and holiday gifts. It also provides families with rent or mortgage and utility assistance and educational classes.
Through Friday, Children’s Aid is running Christmas Connection, providing gifts to its clients.
“It’s going extremely well,” said Earle Knapp, a board member of Children’s Aid. “This may be the best [community] response I’ve seen in years.”
But donations are still welcome, he said. Drop off toys and gifts for infants through 18 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at South Potomac Church in White Plains.
“The more we collect, the more we can give away,” Knapp said. Right now, each child there are about 2,000 served by the program is getting about one-and-a-half gifts.
The organization stays busy all year, providing assistance to 1,100 families in the county, and to continue, it needs the community’s support and assistance.
“We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing without the community’s help,” said the organization’s Chairwoman Pam Vahle. “We’re here to help.”