Lighting up the night
The holidays are collectively known as the Season of Lights, and few celebrate that locally with the glowing intensity of Brett Miller.
For years the West Fargo man has turned heads and stopped traffic by lighting up his home at 837 10th Ave., E. — and the neighborhood.
This year he's not just opening eyes and ears with his audio-visual display, he also hopes to open wallets. Freewill donations for the Roger Maris Pediatric Cancer Center can be left in a donation box on the house that he empties every night. After the show ends on Jan. 1, he'll bring all of the contributions to the Roger Maris Center.
"If there's going to be traffic in front of my house, I might as well make it worthwhile," Miller says.
The twinkling tradition started modestly when he and his wife, Mare, purchased the property a decade ago. He always liked driving around to look at holiday displays, and she always wanted a decorated house, so after moving in, he began with simple lights along the roof. As he started seeing videos of more dynamic displays online, he did more and more research into the world of Christmas light enthusiasts.
While his birthday is on Thursday, Dec. 15, Mare surprised him with an early gift one November, telling him he had to open it immediately. It was his first controller, which would allow him to program lights to dim, twinkle, fade and chase. His first exhibit was basic by current standards, but he was bit by the lighting bug.
"It gets in your blood and snowballs from there," Miller says.
The work never really stops, either.
"While the show is running, I'm out there planning what I could do different for next year," he says. In January, he starts planning in earnest as manufacturers have the best sales in the beginning of the year.
"It almost gets to be an obsession," he says with a laugh.
His obsession leads to passers-by's appreciation.
Every window and doorway facing the street is outlined with lights, with a few figures on the house and in the yard. This year also features a large light Christmas tree, what he calls "a mega-tree."
"It's small compared to what most people in this hobby do. It's only about 9-feet tall," he says.
The tree allows him to scroll text or pictures or just flash colors.
Another sign lights up to tell people to tune in to 97.3 FM, where they can find the eight songs to which the lights are synced. The soundtrack includes Owl City's "Light of Christmas," a disco spin on the "Star Wars" theme and "Wizards in Winter" by Trans Siberian Orchestra.
"An old stand-by," Miller says.
One new feature is the image of an elf at work in an upstairs window, the product of a projection on a drop cloth from inside the room.
"It's fooled a couple of people so far. It seems to be a big hit this year," he says.
Something else that may fool people is the relatively little amount of extra electricity the display uses. Most lights are LEDs and run off one 20-amp circuit. That, coupled with the staggering of lights and that the show is set to run from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, means his electricity bill doesn't skyrocket in December.
Traffic is busiest weekend nights, when he's spotted up to seven cars outside watching. He says for the most part traffic hasn't been a problem and visitors don't block nearby driveways, so he hasn't heard neighbors complain.
"I have a lot of new neighbors this year, and I did warn them about this," Miller says.
It was a warning Cassidy Black, who just bought the house to the east, didn't need to hear. The reputation of Miller's show preceded the neighborly notice.
"It's awesome," says Black as he takes a break from shoveling to look at Miller's presentation.
Black looks at his own house and says he's behind on decorating. Asked if he will compete with Miller's light show, he just laughs.
"No way," Black says. "I think he pretty much steals the show around here."