WALNUT – A childhood tradition of lighting up Christmas for family and friends has given birth to one of the area’s most popular holiday displays nestled in the hills near Walnut.
In just five years, Northern Lights has grown into a can’t miss Christmas experience, something in which its creator continues to be amazed.
“It’s amazing how it’s grown,” said Jason Aycock, a software engineer who began the display in 2015.
Aycock explained the elaborate program of computer controlled lights synced to music broadcast to visitors’ cars via FM radio began first with a simple love of decorating.
The Wheeler native recalled how growing up he and his father would spend the day after Thanksgiving each year putting up outdoor decorations at their family’s home so they’d have the lights ready when the rest of the family came home from shopping.
Those fond memories of decorating with dad were at the front of Aycock’s mind when he and his wife, fellow Wheeler native Erin, moved to their new home in Walnut.
The display started small, but he soon became fascinated by videos of sophisticated light shows synced to music.
“I thought, that’s cool. I could do that,” he said.
In 2015 he officially launched Northern Lights with the start of their Facebook page.
“We started with two followers and it’s now over 3,200,” he said.
The first year the display used two light controllers and around 6,000 lights. This year it features over 63,000 lights operated by 10 separate controllers. There are two miles of electric extension cords.
Work begins on the project in July as Aycock chooses his songs and begins programming the show. He always tries to include around six new songs along with bringing back two favorites from previous years. This year they added an additional 13,000 new lights.
He said it’s been amazing to see how its grown and the response they’ve had from visitors. He hears regularly from people telling him about what it means to their families.
This year has been extra special because of the pandemic. He began getting questions early in the year about whether the show would go on and his response was “Why not?”.
He said it’s a perfect activity in these socially distanced times because people can stay in their cars, spend time with their families and celebrate the season.
“It’s a place you can come to and feel safe,” he said.
While the show may be elaborate with flashing lights and exciting music, the heart of it can be found in a simple small tree with lights that never flash or change.
Visitors often ask about the tree near the power pole and for Aycock it’s a vital part of what they do.
“Miss Mattie’s Tree,” is a tribute to all those who are no longer with us and to a beloved neighbor from many years ago. Growing up they had a neighbor who was bedridden, but could see the lights of their home from her bed. His father would be sure to put a tree on the power pole where she could see and enjoy it.
“I still do it every year as a remembrance for her and for everyone who has loved ones who couldn’t be with them,” he said.
Aycock is pleased with turnout of folks witnessing the holiday light and sound show and promised the display will continue to be expanded next year to keep people coming back.