Jim Winder stands in front of his creation, a 40,000 LED light display set to a multitude of songs, on Dec. 4. The Helmstetler Family Christmas Spectacular, at 3908 s.w. Charlestown, has two light shows every night through the holiday season. TO SEE MORE IMAGES, CLICK THE PICTURE ABOVE.
SLIDESHOW: Helmstetler house explodes into choreographed color nightly
Jim Winder, the man behind the lights at 3908 s.w. Charlestown, has been putting up Christmas lights since he was six years old.
With time, his skills have increased alongside his scope for what makes a good display. At six, he was likely proud of a 100 light string wrapped around a bush. Today, it takes 40,000 lights, precisely choreographed to Christmas and classic rock music, framing the house like a festive exoskeleton.
This is the second year of Winder’s Helmstetler Family Christmas Spectacular display, and it seems to grow in leaps and bounds each year. Last year he used 10,000 lights, this year it’s four times that amount.
As for why Winder and his son, Jonathan, devote so much sweat equity to the display, Winder says, “To see the smiles on peoples’ faces. That’s the big part of Christmas is making memories for people, especially little kids.”
Although the smiles are important, another big part of the display is helping out charity. The West Seattle Food Bank, Pushing Boundaries and the Northwest Parkinson Foundation all receive 100 percent of donations received.
More information on how to donate, schedules for the light shows, karaoke sign-up, fun facts on what goes into the display, driving directions and a list of other Christmas light displays in West Seattle can all be found at Winder’s website, www.westseattlelights.com.
Winder’s memories of lights in West Seattle stretch far into the past.
“My grandmother used to live down here on 35th, so I’ve been coming to West Seattle since the fifties,” he said.
Winder’s grandmother’s house was just a few blocks away from the Gay family house (who ran Gai’s Bakery), and he has fond memories of walking to see the Gai Christmas lights. “They always had a big display and it was a big thing to come over here at Thanksgiving …,” he said.
It took Winder and his son three weekends to get the lights up on the house (he said it should have only taken a weekend but a technical difficulty slowed the process), but those weekends are just the start.
Winder started choreographing the lights to music over the summer using a program called Light-o-Rama, which uses 528 channels to tell the lights what to do and when.
“It takes anywhere from four to six hours per 30 seconds of song, depending on how complex you want to make it and how accurate you want to make it, and unfortunately I’m anal about that,” he said. “99 percent of the people wouldn’t notice that it was off, but I can. So, you gotta pick songs you like because you tend to hear it a couple hundred times during the summer while you’re doing it.”
Winder has 12 songs at this time, and hopes to have 16 by the end of the holiday season, he said.
As for the 40,000 lights, Winder uses only LED lights.
“I’m 100 percent LED just for the cost savings … well, energy savings, certainly not cost savings because they’re expensive. We’re a green Christmas display,” he said.
Winder said the 40,000 LEDs use about as much energy as ten strings of regular lights.
Winder also has interactive buttons at the house that children can press to light up different sets of lights and make sounds. He said anyone can use the buttons before the first light show begins (from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.) or in between the two nightly shows.
“I got that idea from when I was a kid going down to Frederick and Nelson (a historic Seattle department store that closed its doors in 1992) and putting my hands on the window to control the trains,” he said.
The music from the Helmstetler house is broadcast live on 101.9 FM for anyone that wants to watch the lights from the warmth of their vehicle.
Winder asked that anyone coming to the house please turn off their headlights once they park, be weary of blocking neighbors driveways and watch out for kids on the road.
As of Dec. 4, no one had signed up for Karaoke and Winder encouraged people to visit the website, www.westseattlelights.com, to sign up.
If you make the trip to see the display, Winder has a bin set up in front of the house for West Seattle Food Bank donations.
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