By Hazel Ford–
If you haven’t heard of Sampolo Court in Citrus Heights, you’ll likely want to drive by in the evening before New Year’s. While moving to Citrus Heights from Thousand Oaks earlier this year to be closer to their grandchildren, Ed and Valerie Higgins brought their annual tradition with them — a huge 25-minute light show in their yard that’s timed to music, and includes jokes and interactive displays for kids.
Their entire front yard is covered in white and lit with over 50,000 coordinated flashing lights, all synchronized to various holiday songs. The show includes jumping reindeer, snow-blowing bubble machines, moving lights in the shape of a five-piece band playing on the garage door, and a custom carving of Santa’s house with smoke that blows from a chimney — and it’s all emceed from the rooftop by talking Rudolph the Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman characters.
“The only reason we do this is for the kids. We do this to watch their faces — they’re just having the time of their lives,” Ed Higgins told The Sentinel in an interview on Friday. “We watch their eyes and they freak out, it’s like the coolest thing in the world… they jump and they spin in the street. They just go crazy.”
With thousands of lights and miles of cord, the entire show is a work of art and hard labor. The couple said the unique display takes about four weekends to set up, working morning to night — and a 3-minute song takes about 35-40 hours of work to custom code synchronized lighting.
Located near Sunrise Boulevard and Sungarden Drive, the show can be viewed at 7867 Sampolo Ct. every evening from 5:30 to 10 p.m. until New Years’ Eve. On Fridays and Saturdays, hot cocoa and cookies are also set up outside, hosted by the Higgins’. Viewers who want to stay in the cars are also invited to tune their radios to 98.7 FM to hear the music while they watch the light show.
How it all began
Ed and Valerie, both 63, have been creating light shows since 2005, when they first heard of lights blinking in time to music. Carson Williams of Ohio had just put together the first show of that kind, and it got national attention. The Higgins’ saw it on the morning news, and their curiosity was piqued. They researched the light display and found that Williams used Light-O-Rama controllers to time his lights to music, so they contacted the company and bought a controller of their own.
But after picking a song and plugging in some lights, the two weren’t very impressed.
“We looked at what we had made — that Christmas of 2005 — and we sat on the curb, in our cul de sac, in the dark,” Ed recalled. “Then we said, ‘There’s got to be more to this than just blinking lights and music.’”
He didn’t know what to do with the disappointing purchase, but Valerie had a more out-of-the-box mindset. She told her husband they could do anything they wanted with the light controller — they could animate Christmas-light characters to talk, jump, spin, or anything else they could dream up.
As an entertainer, the idea of a light show appealed to Ed. He had worked as a performing Magician Member at Hollywood’s Magic Castle for over 33 years as a card expert and slight of hand artist, and Valerie also had an interest in entertainment. The pair met 16 years ago at one of his shows when he called her out of the audience to help him with an act. Three years later, they married.
In 2006, the couple decided to try their Light-O-Rama display again. They built a five-foot Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer head out of lights to introduce their show. Ed, the voice of Rudolph, told stories and cracked jokes. They synchronized the lights to move in time to the voice, as if Rudolph was really moving his mouth. The couple also bought four Costco light-up deer in different positions to line up on their lawn and then lit them in a sequence to appear like there was one deer that ran, stopped, then jumped over a fence.
While Ed handles the technical aspects, he said his wife makes everything that’s on display in the yard. Valerie first draws a picture of whatever they want to make and then blows the image up to six or seven feet in size. She then takes push-pins and attaches the giant paper image onto corrugated plastic. Hand-drilled holes are then placed along the outline and all over the image to stick colored lights through.
Once the lights are in place and plugged into the Light-O-Rama controller, Ed then uses the controller’s software to write a code that controls the blinking.
The Higgins’ kept building their displays each year, adding Frosty to accompany Rudolph several years later. He was given a different voice, reminiscent of characters from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. The two characters now tell one-liners, sing, and talk to each other.
Ed fondly told the Sentinel about the coolest display that he built with his wife: seven-foot-tall snowmen that had a snowball fight, “throwing” balls of light 30 feet through the air and knocking off each other’s hats. He said they aren’t featuring the snowmen in their show this Christmas due to space limitations in their new yard, but can’t wait to show them off next year.
In Thousand Oaks, the couple said thousands of people began flocking to their home to watch the lights. Social media in particular helped spread the word about their display, with teens often posting a picture of the lights and inviting friends over.
Not wanting to stop adding to the creativity of their display, Ed had another big idea several years later.
“Let’s change the world with this,” he recalled thinking. “Let’s make it interactive, so that little kids — four, five, or six years old — can clap their hands or stomp their feet and something happens. And we did it. We were the first ever, ever, to come up with an interactive light show.”
Calling it “static interaction,” the couple created a story about a mouse lost in a blizzard. Kids watching the display are told to “clap their hands” or “stomp their feet” to wake up a sleeping Santa Claus and save the mouse. A bubble-blowing snow machine was even brought in to stimulate the blizzard.
The creative couple say they plan to keep expanding the interactive element of their show in future years, with plans to even add multiple choices. They also have plenty of other aspects to the display that aren’t in use this year simply due to their smaller yard size.
“Next year we’ll switch things out and put a whole new gig in.”
Those interested in seeing the display can view it through Dec. 31 at 7867 Sampolo Ct. A donation bin is also set up outside the home for a local food bank.