Let there be light; Holiday lights show set to music moves to Albert Lea

Published 8:37 am Monday, November 19, 2018

By Colleen Harrison

For those who drive around to look at lights for the holidays, there’s another stop to add to the list.

The Carter Christmas Lights Show, a holiday staple for the past four years in Austin, is now calling Albert Lea home.

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Mike and Freddy Carter moved to Albert Lea in June to take advantage of being closer to area lakes. The couple are in their fifth year of decking out their house with lights during the holiday season, and this will be the fourth year where the lights are synchronized to music. Visitors can tune their car radios to 93.5 FM and will see and hear the lights show set to Mariah Carey’s “Lil Snowman,” a remix of Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” Simple Plan’s “Christmas Every Day” and Lindsey Stirling’s “Carol of the Bells.”

Mike Carter said they pick different songs each year that have both a traditional Christmas origin, but with a modern take. In years past they’ve used one or two songs in the show, with this year being the first where four songs will be used.

Carter, a computer programmer by profession, builds the lights program from scratch himself, which takes about eight months. He said it takes about one to one and a half months to put all the lights up, and they typically try to have them up by the week after Halloween — thanks to Minnesota’s penchant for early winter weather.

The Carters designed and built the pictured drummer boy themselves, using corrugated plastic sheets and over 1,400 lights. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

In 2014, the Carter family’s first year putting up lights, there were 7,000 LED lights involved in the show. Now, there’s an estimated 34,000 LED lights in the show, with more added each year. Strings of lights adorn the lawn and trees and wrap around the pillars of the Carters’ home at 1905 Brookside Drive in Albert Lea, while larger-than-life snowflakes are fastened to the front of the house and a 16-foot drummer boy, which they built themselves, guards the side of the house. Pieces from Mike Carter’s mother’s and grandmother’s past Christmas decorations have been incorporated into the show as well.

Carter’s parents and grandmother come to visit each year to see the show in person. For those who can’t make it to Minnesota, though, he puts a video of the show on its Facebook and Youtube pages, along with its website, www.carterxmas.com.

Each year the show collects donations for a different nonprofit. Funds raised in years past have gone to help Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts afford summer camp. This year, donations will go to the Spruce Up Albert Lea for Christmas holiday lights campaign. People are welcome to donate at the show or donate online through the website.

The lights show starts this weekend, with the idea that starting earlier will help the Carters work out any glitches in time for peak viewing time after Thanksgiving. On Friday, Mike Carter said they had already gotten some positive comments from a neighbor or two — he said they send neighbors letters each year ahead of time thanking them for their patience with the extra traffic when the show is running.

The show runs from this weekend through Dec. 31, and runs from 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays. On Fridays and Saturdays, as well as Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, the show runs from 5 to 10 p.m.

According to the Carter Christmas Lights Show website, during a typical holiday season, the full display will run almost 950 times. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

During breaks between shows, visitors are welcome to walk up closer to the lights or take pictures of them, but are asked to be careful not to trip over wires in between displays. Mike Carter did ask that people drive down Bayview Drive and circle around to drive past the house, with the lights show on the right side of the car, to avoid unnecessary traffic jams.

A native of the Chicago area, Carter said he grew up seeing big lights displays, and wanted to bring that feel to the smaller communities he has lived in. One of his favorite things about the show is seeing people come up to take pictures by the lights, seeing children enjoy the show and getting thank-you notes from people who have enjoyed the display.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved lights and electricity,” Carter said.

“It’s fun for the whole family. … the target audience is little kids, so they can enjoy Christmas even more.”

If you go:

What: Carter Christmas Lights Show

When: 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Dec. 24, 25 and 31; now through Dec. 31

Where: 1905 Brookside Drive in Albert Lea

The Carter Christmas Lights Show is open now through Dec. 31. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune