This Christmas, the bar for holiday light displays has shot higher than a four-story chimney, introducing a new level of eye-popping, kilowatt-gobbling merriment.
An amateur Griswold with a string of incandescent bulbs must now compete with holographic projectors that beam Santas into bedroom windows, LED lamps that create realistic snowstorms and FM radio transmitters that provide a soundtrack of carols for anyone driving by.
But the Triangle’s cul de sacs wind on endlessly, and holiday websites often lead Christmas light fans toward electronic duds. So in the spirit of giving, we at the N&O offer this guide to the best, brightest, most over-the-top exhibits we’ve seen.
Drive slowly and tip the elves.
6001 Countryview Lane, southern Wake County
Best Route: Follow Lake Wheeler Road south of Raleigh, then right on Penny Road and right again on Olde South Road. Countryview comes up quickly on the right.
Background: For more than a decade, Bobby Moore operated what might be the craziest set of lights in the county, featuring a Ferris wheel, a UFO and a smoke-belching Tyrannosaurus. Nicknamed “Happyland,” his flashy arrangement off Penny Road took the top prize last year in ABC’s “Great Christmas Light Fight” TV competition.
Some of those trimmings date back to the 1950s, when Moore’s father built floats for Raleigh’s Christmas parade. But this year, Moore passed the bulbs to his son Robby, who erected roughly 60 percent of his dad’s collection only a few miles away off Olde South Road. Santa in a parachute. South Park characters. A pair of camels.
So far, Moore proves to be a more-than-qualified heir. Knowing that his army of toy soldiers and inflatable snowmen required enough electricity to triple his father’s bill, Moore had another 100 amps installed at home. Still not quite enough, though.
Quotable:“I’d hate to have another power pole put in,” said Robby Moore, 37. “That’s getting a little crazy.”
Hours: Dark until 9 p.m.
2216 Abbey Lane, Raleigh
Best route: Follow Creedmoor Road north from Crabtree Valley Mall. Left on Morgans Way, then left again on Abbey.
Background: From the time he was 6 months old, Dean Taunton would make little cooing noises reaching for his family’s Christmas ornaments. Now, with two degrees in electrical engineering, he puts his lifelong fascination to work.
The Taunton family’s display requires more than 100,000 bulbs, including an LED Christmas tree that lights up one lightning flash at a time, then spells messages across the 20-foot trunk. Santa’s mouth moves on the lawn and reindeer legs kick on the roof.
To top it off, a pair of radio frequencies – one featuring the Peanuts gang – play carols for the cars inching past.
Quotable: “It provides people with something to listen to while waiting in line,” Taunton said.
Hours: 5 p.m to 10 p.m.
8501 Sleepy Creek Drive, Raleigh
Best route: Go to the Tauntons’ house on Abbey Lane and drive a little bit farther.
Background: Around the corner from the Tauntons, the Heindel family has built a cross-neighborhood rivalry. Mary Heindel swears there’s no competition, but to see these Christmas light palaces almost side-by-side is to imagine these families in a constant state of one-upmanship.
The tree trunks are wrapped in lights reaching 20 feet high. Angels flap their wings. Dogs wag their tails. The sleigh on the roof slowly fills up with red and green boxes, and the star grows larger with each flash. Like the Tauntons, they provide car radio accompaniment.
The Heindels’ display aired Monday as part of this year’s “Great Christmas Light Fight,” winning local-pride congratulations from last year’s champs.
Quotable: “We started on it 45 years ago and just kept adding,” Heindel said. “The whole family works on it, the grandkids and the neighbors. It takes a little while for all the lights to come on.”
Hours: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
5725 Fixit Shop Road, Wake Forest
Best route: Take U.S. 401 northeast out of Raleigh, then turn right on Mitchell Mill Road. Fixit Shop comes up on the right.
Background: Thirty years ago, Jesse and Shirley Piper started their sprawling drive-through lights compilation with a simple Nativity scene. That collection grew fruitful and multiplied – big enough to include a train ride, a candy store and more than a million bulbs.
Around a central pond, a visitor will spot Santa fishing with a light-up worm, a full-sized Noah’s ark and a life-size hot-air balloon that spells out “Jesus Saves.” Last year, Piper Lights also got prominent mention on the “Great Christmas Light Fight.”
At 75, Jesse Piper stands around a fire in the front yard each night, greeting each of the roughly 4,000 cars that pull through. But Shirley, his wife, died in January at age 77. Her love for Christmas decorating at Piper Lights made the first paragraph of her obituary.
Quotable: “We’re keeping it up,” Piper said. “For her.”
Hours: 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, it stays open until 10 p.m. Donations are accepted.
10 S. Cypress St., Wendell
Best route: Take the U.S. 64 bypass east of Raleigh and get off at the Wendell Boulevard exit. Turn left on Academy Street and follow it to Cypress.
Background: In the middle of downtown Wendell, the Lake Myra Christmas Lights Show boasts the oldest and largest computer-driven display in the state.
For roughly 50 minutes, its field of 700,000 bulbs flash and twinkle in a show set to a booming round of carols. Unlike other yuletide presentations, this one tends to get viewed from a lawn chair.
The show gets narrated by a talking snowman and tree duo, and because the lights work in tandem with the sound, they all shine together for only about 16 minutes an hour. While walking through the flashes, a visitor will be bombarded with both hot chocolate and Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Hours: The show runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Donations are welcomed.
Tell us more
Know of a display we missed? Send a photo or video to email@example.com and we’ll look into it.