Extreme Christmas lights draw holiday crowds

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Temple Square and Thanksgiving Point may be known for their spectacular Christmas decorations, but one small town in Utah is pulling out all the stops to get recognized this December.

Residents spend the whole weekend before Thanksgiving setting up Christmas cheer in their North Ogden neighborhood.

“We really go all out here,” said North Ogden resident Tim Sorenson.

And by “go all out,” Sorenson means Christmas lights on every tree, bush and window. Sorenson and other residents of their neighborhood put hours of work and effort into planning their Christmas display. Decorations include lights that change color every few seconds, inflatable snowmen that move and life-like miniature Christmas villages that glow.

Sorenson started this Christmas light tradition when he moved into a neighborhood that didn’t have many Christmas lights.

“It was always so dark around the neighborhood this time of year, and I wanted to change that,” Sorenson said. “It takes a lot of time, but it puts me in the Christmas spirit.”

Sorenson and other Christmas “lighters” research new lights that last longer and new technologies to advance their Christmas displays. His neighbors started pitching in to help him. He inspired his neighbors to set up their own lights.

Although Sorenson’s house lights up the neighborhood, his home pales in comparison to that of Curtis and Kandice Johnstun, and he is okay with that.

Curtis and Kandice Johnstun participate in what they call “Extreme Christmas Lighting.” While Sorenson spends a few days setting up his lights, the Johnstuns spend months preparing and setting up. They program a radio station with various Christmas songs to go with their light show.

“Our kids were out of the house, and we needed a hobby,” Curtis Johnstun said. “I like to spend time in the yard, so this was a great opportunity to try something new.”

The Johnstuns’ light show draws lines of cars outside of their house after dark every night in December. The crowd gets bigger every year, so the Johnstuns need to get more creative. They recruit members of the community to help them set up. Getting others to help has been a big inspiration for the couple.

“It makes me feel like I’m part of the community, and it brings us together in the Christmas spirit,” Kandice Johnstun said. “We’ve only had one person complain about it, saying it was exceedingly festive and too bright. I don’t think there is such thing as ‘exceedingly festive.'”

“Exceedingly festive” is the term used to describe houses on “The Great Christmas Light Fight,” an ABC Network television show. The show features 20 families competing to have the most elaborate Christmas display. Their displays have more 165,000 lights, and costs for setup and electricity are more than $100,000. Some displays even feature choreography and pyrotechnics, according to abc.go.com.

Extreme Christmas lights can be found all over the country. Birch Street in Newport Beach, California, is a residential street where residents “deck their halls” in Christmas lights. Palm trees are wrapped in Christmas lights, and homeowners go above and beyond to create the perfect Christmas scene. Santa’s sleigh and reindeer hang from palm trees and create an illusion that Santa Claus is flying over one home on Birch Street. Patrons tune into a radio station playing Christmas songs, and they marvel at the lights. Birch Street has become a holiday tradition for Southern California residents and tourists.

Brett Olson, a former BYU student from Yorba Linda, California, remembers going to Birch Street every Christmas when he was little.

“It doesn’t snow in Orange County, and snow is kind of like a symbol of Christmas,” Olson said. “The lights really bring that Christmas feeling.”

BYU students don’t have to go far from home to feel the Christmas spirit. Extreme Christmas lights literally bring the home to the holidays, and plenty of homes in Utah participate.

“I like to see Christmas lights right where I live,” said BYU student Linda Petersen, from Draper, Utah, “I always look forward to what they are going to come up with each year.”

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