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14 Incredible Holiday Light Displays

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Once upon a time, you could hang up a string of lights and call your house decorated for the merriest season. But these days, LEDs, computerized Christmas lights, and projection lights have added new dimensions to decorating—and people are creating bigger and better light shows with each passing holiday season.

1. SARAJEVO 12/24

Robert Pechous of Wheaton, Illinois, synchronized more than 35,000 Christmas lights by computer to create this lovely display in 2013. (The video features just one song—Trans Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24"—but the show had three songs total.) Pechous expands the light show every year, raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in honor of his young cousin, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

2. DUELING JINGLE BELLS

The Brown family of Stafford, Virginia, staged a Christmas light show from 2008 to 2013 to benefit the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank. In 2012, they got a little silly and slipped a novelty song in among the Christmas Carols. You can see their other selections on YouTube.

3. TECHNO MIX

It's a Christmas rave! This home went techno for Christmas in 2011. We don't know where the home is located, or the identity of the people who so joyfully decked it out, but they've been at it for a while: You can see their other displays here.

4. MUSIC BOX DANCER

Victor Johnson of Paxton, Illinois, used 140,000 lights on his home to create this display in 2013. The music was broadcast on an FM channel so that those driving by could hear it without disturbing the neighbors. You can see more of his Christmas displays over the years at Lighting Up Paxton.

5. CHRISTMAS CAN-CAN

Tom BetGeorge of Tracy, California, is a legend among Christmas light fans. Every year, his meticulous light display helps to raise funds for local charities, and in 2013, the display included the hilarious "Christmas Can-Can" by Straight No Chaser. The 2016 show will still feature his popular Star Wars sequence, in addition to Harry Potter music and, according to BetGeorge's Facebook page, a "to-scale computer-lighted model of Hogwart's [sic] castle." The show kicks off December 16.

6. LET IT GO

A family in Texas, which goes by ListenToOurLights, syncs many songs to their lights every year, and in 2014, the blue lights lent themselves well to the songs of the Disney movie Frozen. You can see the lights dance to other songs in this playlist. The cactus is a family tradition that acts as their signature.

7. AMAZING GRACE

Richard Holdman of Pleasant Grove, Utah, began programming his Christmas lights in 2006. They grew every year, and in 2009, the town was treated to the sequence you see here. A donation box raised $40,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation that year. Holdman no longer puts on a show at his home, but he started a company, Holdman Lighting, and now decorates homes all over the country.

8. PURPLE RAIN

Mike Staudt of Chaska, Minnesota, puts on an annual lights show called Lights on Pascolo. That's not far from Prince's home, Paisley Park, so this year's show includes a tribute to the artist, complete with purple lights. You can see the full 2016 show here. Donations from those who enjoy the show this year will go to Ronald McDonald house charities.

9. STAR WARS/UPTOWN FUNK

In Auckland, New Zealand, where Christmas falls in the middle of summer, Logan Carpenter mixed his own music and programmed lights to match. Take a tour of Carpenter's yard to see the variety of Christmas decorations and lights.

10. EL PASO CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

Fred and Maria Loya of El Paso, Texas, won the The Great Christmas Light Fight in 2014. Their home display has only grown from there. This is their light show for 2016, featuring 450,000 lights.

11. JOLLY'S DEPARTMENT STORE

The new trend in Christmas lights is projection. You can project lights on your house for very little cost, but the most amazing displays use computerized projection mapping. This display on the front of Jolly's Department Store in Bath, UK, in 2014 shows the possibilities of this technology.

12. WESTERN MALL

In 2006, Joe Noe of Crooks, South Dakota, staged a computerized light show at his home, and the show grew so much every year that it had to eventually be moved to the Western Mall in Sioux Falls. The video above shows the 2011 display. In those years, the light display raised over $225,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. There isn't a display this year, but organizers hope it will return in 2017.

13. DUBSTEP AT THE ZOO

Matt and Melissa Johnson of San Antonio, Texas, started doing computerized Christmas lights in 2013 at their home, and within a couple of years they were featured on The Great Christmas Light Fight. The display went over so well that Matt started his own lighting business, which was brought aboard to put on a light show at the San Antonio Zoo. See more of the Johnson Family Light Show at their website.

14. WALT DISNEY WORLD

Two years ago, Walt Disney World in Orlando unveiled a show called "A Frozen Holiday Wish," centered around the movie Frozen. The show leads up to the lighting of Cinderella's Castle with projected Christmas lights every evening during the season. The actual lighting begins six minutes into the video.

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Want to Recycle Your Christmas Tree? Feed It to an Elephant
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When the holiday season finally comes to a close, people get creative with the surplus of dead Christmas trees. One San Francisco-based artist transformed brittle shrubs into hanging installation pieces. Others use pine needles for mulch, or repurpose trees into bird sanctuaries. For the average person, sticking it into a wood chipper or "treecycling" it as part of a community program are all eco-friendly ways to say goodbye to this year's Douglas fir. None of these solutions, however, are as cute as the waste-cutting strategy employed by some zoos around the world: giving them to elephants.

Each year, zookeepers at Tierpark Berlin—a facility that bills itself as “Europe’s largest adventure animal park”—feed the elephants unsold pine trees. The plants are reportedly pesticide-free, and they serve as a good (albeit prickly) supplement to the pachyderms' usual winter diets.

A bit closer to home, the residents of The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee rely on local residents to take part in their annual Christmas Tree Drive. In addition to being nutrient-rich, the tree's needles are said to help aid in an elephant's digestion. But beyond all that, it's pretty adorable to watch.

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5 Eco-Friendly Ways to Dispose of Your Christmas Tree
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What’s the environmentally safest way to dispose of your Christmas tree? It’s hard to say. Grown, managed, transported, and recycled efficiently, a real Christmas tree’s environmental impact should be near neutral. Unfortunately, not all Christmas tree plantations are equal in their environmental impact.

The most eco-friendly way is to leave the tree in the ground, where it belongs, so you never have to dispose of it. But then you don't have a Christmas tree in your house to bring festive cheer. One thing you can do is be environmentally smart when it comes to the tree's disposal. After this festive season, why not try one of these eco-friendly methods.

1. CHIP IT.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a big wood-chipper, you may be able to chip the entire tree. Wood-chip is great as a decorative landscaping material. But if you really want to do great things for the environment (and if you have access to a lot of Christmas trees), you could make a bioreactor to denitrify water. Nitrates are put on farms across the world to help increase crop output, but a considerable amount is washed away into lakes and rivers where it’s disastrous for fish and potentially toxic for people. A wood chip bioreactor encourages the growth of bacteria that break down the nitrates in the drainage water, reducing the amount that gets into the water supply. It's not a simple project, however. To make one, you have to dig a big trench, get the water to flow through said trench, and fill it with wood chips. More info can be found here [PDF].

2. CRAFT IT.


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If your tree hasn’t yet let go of its needles—and you haven’t yet let go of Christmas, get crafty with it. Cut off small branches and bind them around a circle of wire to make an attractive wreath. This looks even better if some of the cones are still attached. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could set up an essential oil extractor to get a supercharged Christmas scent. If you are already distilling alcohol, you have everything you need (here's how to do it). With a little less effort and equipment, you can make a weaker liquid called hydrosol, which is a fragrant condensate water containing water-soluble parts of the needles.

3. STICK IT.

Many legumes, such as garden peas, are thigmotropic, meaning that they respond to objects they touch, growing in coils along or up them. Needle-free Christmas tree branches have lots of twigs, texture, and knobby protrusions for peas and beans to get a grip on. This allows them to grow upwards strongly toward light. Simply stick a small tree branch in the soil next to each new shoot for a free, effective legume-climbing frame. Another advantage of this technique is that it makes grazing animals less likely to munch those tender green shoots, as they tend to avoid getting Christmas tree twigs spiked up their noses.

4. TREECYCLE IT.


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Come January, it’s cold, the festivities are over, work looms, and you’ve got too much on your mind to be thinking about dead Christmas tree horticulture or crafts. Fortunately, a simple solution is at hand: Most counties and municipalities now provide Christmas tree recycling points where you can take your tree for chipping. Some “TreeCycle” points will even exchange your tree for a bag of wood-chip or chip mulch. OK, this probably means that you’ll have to jam that Christmas tree into your car once more, but as long as you don’t have to drive too many miles out of your way, Christmas tree recycling is a quick and easy environmentally-friendly option.

5. DONATE IT.

After you’ve had your Christmas cheer, why shouldn’t fish have some fun? Several communities have programs in place where they’ll take your old Christmas tree, drill a hole in the base, tie a brick to it, and throw it in a lake. When humans create artificial lakes, they tend to be relatively featureless on the bottom for easy dredging. That’s great for us, but it means baby fish have nowhere to escape predators. Christmas trees provide a nice, temporary place for the fish to hide out and explore.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to see your Christmas tree mauled by a pride of lions, that’s OK too! Some zoos around the world take Christmas tree donations (but please remove all the tinsel first) and allow the animals to play with them.

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