Brian Mitchell’s pretty busy this time of year. He’s got a full time job as a grocer in Windsor, Vermont, and his nights are spent monitoring the 50,000 music-synchronized lights that cover his property.
The day I caught him on the phone, he’d already been working on it for months.
"About April or May I’ll start dabbling with it again, and if I have any projects in mind I’ll start working on those. So it’s a full-year hobby. And then all the programming of the songs, which takes a lot of time."
When Mitchell says “a lot of time,” he means hundreds of hours. For every minute of music that he syncs with his lighting display, he spends 10 hours programming with software called Light-O-Rama.
Watch: Mitchell's light display flickers to Winter Palace by the Trans Siberian Orchestra
Mitchell has twenty-six songs on his playlist, with the whole show clocking in at around two hours. That’s 1,200 hours of programming. One seventh of a year.
"And so, Brian, you’re married, right?"
"How does your wife feel about all these hours spent working on the display?"
"Keeps me at home. Keeps me out of trouble. I don’t go out to bars, I don’t own a boat. This is basically my big hobby."
Mitchell and his wife, Joyce, bought their home in Claremont back in 1990.
"We started out with one plastic Santa and one string of lights," he tells me, "and just kept adding and adding."
One day, about twenty-five years ago, while Mitchell was on a tour of extravagant Christmas displays in Manchester, he got inspired.
"One guy in particular that had all these moving displays and all motorized and that one was really impressive and I said, 'someday I kinda want to do that.'"
Mitchell’s got a website, ClaremontChristmasLights.com, which he’s had since the light animation started. It features photo spreads and a video compilation going back to that inaugural year, 2005.
You can watch the show become more elaborate as Mitchell adds channels and lights and new songs to the repertoire. Elsewhere on the site, you’re find driving directions to the Mitchell home. They end with the instruction, “Follow the glow.”
It’s not unusual to find drivers idling in their cars, ogling the display when you pull up to the house.
A green glowing sign planted in the front yard invites people to “listen to the lights,” by tuning to a short range radio signal broadcast from Mitchell’s basement. Though, if you’re close enough, you’ll catch the music coming from speakers in the yard.
Visitors slowly emerge from their cars and drift across the street, some surprised to find that the Mitchell display is a walk-through, leading people to a backyard scene of painted wooden cut outs, light-up penguins and angels and Santas and reindeer, all arranged according to a different theme each year.
"My wife heard about it, so we were like, oh, we should go check it out," one visitor tells me. "I grew up not far from here, so I was like, why have I never heard of it?"
Meanwhile, out front, the feature-length light show takes up every spare surface, with a 2D Christmas tree assuming the occasional speaking role and stars and flashbulbs bursting like tiny fireworks.
Being such a big production, Brian Mitchell’s display needs pretty regular upkeep. So, if you stick around long enough, there’s a chance the creator himself will appear.
"Well, I’m looking at this which froze up," he says, pointing to a spot in the display. "It’s supposed to turn more, so I’m going to go and fix that."
Mitchell is tall, in glasses, jeans and blue fleece. You might think he’s just another visitor to the yard until he reaches into the display to straighten a fallen blow-up penguin or inspect the abominable snowman.
Mitchell says the display creates its own little community, with people who came as kids bringing their own children to see how the lights have changed. There’s been at least one marriage proposal in the backyard.
Like any other hobby, Mitchell says, this one costs him money. Fishermen have their reels, he has his lights. But the operating costs, he says, are only about eight bucks a day.
In the early days, people offered him donations for the show. So instead, he put out a donation box for David’s House, which provides housing for children in treatment at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. It raises about $2,000 a year.
Watch: Mitchell upped his video game in 2016, when he got a drone and a GoPro for Christmas
The only real catch is that Mitchell really loves checking out other great displays. And these days, he says, "I don’t have much of a chance to anymore. I would love to, but we’re pretty much glued here every night."
Though, it does mean he has a chance to work on his Youtube videos.
"Yeah, they’re better now that I’ve got a GoPro. I got a GoPro last year for Christmas, so it’s improved my videos."
Mitchell says they haven’t gone viral yet, but he’s working on it.