Decorating for Christmas was always a special part of the holiday while Robert Brodie was growing up in Hawaii. So when he moved to Sacramento, he wanted to continue the tradition.
Year by year, his light display grew, and as the technology became more accessible, it was only natural that the self-described computer geek began to incorporate computer controlled displays into the mix. What started out with a few strings of lights and some lawn figures of Santa and his reindeer has blossomed into a lavish display of more than 50,000 lights at his Sand Dollar Way home.
The lights are programmed to flash in unison with an eclectic selection of Christmas songs, from 'Carol of the Bells' to 'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.' The music is broadcast on outdoor speakers and via a low-power FM transmitter so it can be enjoyed by pedestrians and motorists alike.
Along the way, Brodie’s passion for Christmas lights changed his life in a way he never could have foreseen. A few years back, feeling burdened with the task of assembling the elaborate display, he hired an acquaintance to help out. They hit it off, and over time became close.
In 2013, his father’s death and a family reunion led Brodie to become reflective about connections and the meaning of family. Upon his return to Sacramento, he told Chris he thought of him as a son. Eventually, they agreed to make it official with an adoption through the courts, which became official in 2014.
Brodie, 59, now has two grandchildren in addition to his son and daughter-in-law. As is perhaps only fitting, his grandson who, “from the day he was born” has loved to look at Christmas lights.
Although Brodie will never know how many people he has touched, from time to time he meets one of them. One evening while standing across the street, he struck up a conversation with a man who came to gaze at the lights. The man told him that viewing Brodie’s light display was a special holiday activity he had shared with his wife in past years. His wife had since died, and visiting the light display was a way to honor her memory. Sometimes passers-by are so delighted they are inspired to dance beneath the lighted arches over the driveway.
“That’s what makes it all worth it,” he said.
Experiences like these maintain Brodie’s zeal for creating the display, which changes subtly from year to year and takes a great deal of time, energy and technical skill to put into place. He and his son begin the process the first week of November. He hasn’t logged how many hours it takes, but possibly the most time consuming element is programming the lights to flash in time to the music.
“It takes hours and hours and hours to generate a program,” he said. “I don’t know how many hours per song.”
Brodie also decorates for Halloween, dedicated to creating an environment that is as spooky as possible.
“There’s a lot of screaming Halloween night,” he said. “We have no mercy who we scare!”
His biggest concern is traffic. So far, it has not been disruptive.
“I love people to know about it and enjoy it, but I don’t want to create a nuisance – it’s a balance,” he said.
The neighbors are not complaining. Far from it -- he gets a lot of compliments.
“Don’t ever move!” one neighbor told him.