Light display supports those in need

Dennis Warren uses a program called Light-O-Rama to choreograph the flashing of his Christmas lights in time to an entire playlist of music. - Kirk Boxleitner
Dennis Warren uses a program called Light-O-Rama to choreograph the flashing of his Christmas lights in time to an entire playlist of music.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — In the seven years that Dennis Warren has lived in Marysville, he’s quickly become known as the “holiday lights guy” for his electric light displays on Halloween and Christmas of each year, which he’s used to help support those in need, in addition to creating an entertaining show for those who pass by his house during the afternoons and evenings.

For six of those years, Warren has synched his lights up to prerecorded songs, using a program called Light-O-Rama, that allows him to map out various groupings and strands of the lights that he has all over his roof, and throughout his yard, to choreograph their flashing in time to the music.

“I have about nine songs in my holiday lights playlist,” Warren said, noting that this is up from the six songs on his playlist four years ago, and doesn’t include the voiceover narration he recorded to open and close each program rotation of roughly 15 minutes. “If I were to add a completely new song, it would take me between 8-10 hours to program the lights per every minute of music, so a two-and-a-half-minute song would take me between 24-25 hours.”

Four years ago, Warren’s light display added up to an estimated 21,000 bulbs, running at 60 amps. This Christmas season, he’s amassed more than 34,000 lightbulbs, but because 95 percent of them are LED, he’s running at 42 amps.

“These holiday light decorations have inspired us to become a much more energy-efficient household,” Warren laughed. “And if I can’t find the display that I want, I’ll make it.”

Indeed, in recent years, he’s made a Christmas star out of PVC piping, a number of Christmas tree-style displays out of upside-down wire-frame tomato plant cages, and two North Pole-style columns out of sewer pipes. Even with his light displays running until 9 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays, and until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Warren makes a point to be outside not too long after they start at 5 p.m., even when it’s raining.

“I’ve kept out the cold by wearing three layers of clothing, plus thermals,” Warren said. “I’ve got a treated coat if it rains, but I tend to go in and out then. One of the most challenging parts of doing this has to do with the wet, because as this display has grown, I’ve had to tape all the joints with electrical tape, but I have to make sure the angles of those joints are facing down, so that any water that falls on them will just shed off. If I don’t do that, water can collect in those joints, which are now taped up and have no place for that moisture to go, other than into the wiring.”

Because Warren deals in commercial-grade light strings, whose bulbs are sealed and cannot be changed, he doesn’t have to play the games of hunt-the-bad-bulb with which Christmas tree decorators are all too familiar, but the flip side is that he has to replace an entire light string instead.

“I have about 450 strands on my front yard,” Warren said. “I’ll have about three or four every year that have gone bad from the year before, but they tend not to go bad during the season. They’re usually just bad right up front, which helps me, because then I can replace them early.”

Warren ventures out into the cold and dark not only to double-check the performance of his light programs, but also to meet and greet those who stop by his house, and perhaps even persuade them to contribute something to his collection bin for Volunteers of America, whom he’s helped to support for years through his seasonal electric light displays.

“For the past two years, I’ve collected about $3,000 in cash donations and 1,300  pounds of food items each year,” said Warren, who raised more than $2,000 and 675 pounds of food four years ago. “I’d say we average between 75-90 vehicles swinging through this cul-de-sac every night.”

Warren was even named a “Northwest Do-Gooder” by Volunteers of America of Western Washington for presenting them with an oversized check for $3,101 on Dec. 27 of last year.

“We simply can’t do the work that we do without supporters like Dennis,” said Mark Johnson, vice president of development and communications for Volunteers of America of Western Washington. “Between the economy and the hit that food stamp programs have taken, donations like his are critical to keeping our operations going.”

Warren has reached the point where he begins planning the next year’s holiday light displays before the current year’s displays have finished playing. Although he plans to keep the lights running through the end of the year, he’s asked any prospective visitors not to stop by on Christmas day.

“Let me have that one day off,” Warren laughed, even as he reflected on the reactions that have made this endeavor worthwhile for him. “It’s just a joy to watch the kids and their families, as their faces light up with expressions of awe. The rest of the neighborhood is starting to get in on the act, too, with their own holiday light displays. It takes everyone to bring joy to the folks that pass through here.”

Warren’s home is located at 7513 72nd Dr. NE in Marysville.


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