For more than eight years, Cliff Berner has wowed Northern Virginia residents with his animated Christmas light show at his Springfield home. This year is no different.
“I do it to make people happy,” said Berner, a retired Fairfax County firefighter who has lived at 5406 Fremont Street his entire life. Berner grew up in the home and bought it from his parents 24 years ago. His wife, Terry, works for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.
The Berner’s home draws hundreds of people every year who travel to watch the 16-17 minute light show, which is synchronized in time with a music playlist visitors can listen to on radio frequency 107.9.
Every year, the driveway is covered in arches adorned with lights while a sign near the garage spells out Merry Christmas in lights. Peanuts character Charlie Brown sits atop the home and a deer, presents, and Christmas trees that Berner created using inverted tomato cages light up the yard.
The light show is programmed to run automatically from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and 5:30 p.m. until 11 p.m. on Saturdays until Tuesday, Jan. 1, which is when the Berners take the lights down and pack them away until the holiday season returns.
Planning for this year’s display, which includes 4,800 more lights, began in January and the show always takes a year to plan and execute, said Berner. The task of selecting Christmas music to sync with the display began earlier in the year. To complete the show, Berner also enlists his dad, a retired architect, to help out, particularly with the drawings on the side of the house and repairing lights for the show.
Berner said he began physically setting up the light show in October and continued throughout the Thanksgiving holiday to ensure the show was ready for December.
“I think it’s great, but it’s overwhelming,” said Terry, who added that the only negative to producing the light show every year is the lack of privacy.
Berner said visitors have come from Maryland, Warrenton, Woodbridge and even as far as Pennsylvania to watch the show. Some people have even sent the Berners cards thanking them for producing the light display every year.
“It’s amazing how many people’s lives I affect,” Berner said.
Prior to using computerized lights like the ones featured in this year’s display, Berner said he produced a static display of lights and gradually increased the number of animated lights as the years went on. For the first light show, Berner used 32 “open channels,” which are used to create custom music synchronized shows. Now, the show uses up to 224 channels. Each display is set up on a different sequence to make it easier to program and coordinate.
Berner said he prefers to work with lights instead of inflatables and takes pride producing the light show every year. Despite the length and frequency of the display, Berner said their electricity bill is cheaper than one would think.
“It’s not so bad and in the end, it’s worth it,” Berner said.
Planning to check out the Berner's animated light display? All visitors are asked to park on nearby streets instead of on Fremont Street or in front of the house to avoid traffic congestion. Visitors are also asked to stay on the sidewalk to take photos and watch the show.