Child-like wonder shining on the faces of the people caught up in the magic of their elaborate Christmas display bring joy to Walter and Jackie Monkhouse. For more than 20 years, the retired couple have been adding sparkle and special effects to the display at their Alexandria home on Versailles Boulevard. “We like keeping the Christmas spirit alive. I’ve always loved Christmas lights since I was a kid, and decided when I got my own home, I wanted to have a display. We love doing this for the community,” Jackie says.
What started out as a few light displays on the ground with limited electricity has grown into a “Magic Christmas” with more than 200,000 lights and computerized animation. When the couple married, Walter started creating structures and joined in the fun of Jackie’s hobby. He crafted a train 20 years ago that still chugs through the elaborate forest of twinkling Christmas trees.
The couple have been working up to 20 hours a day lately to get the choreographed light show ready by mid-December. This year’s Magic Christmas show will feature some new technology. The display will incorporate special light bulbs the couple ordered from Australia. “Each of the light bulbs has a computer circuit in it that allows for a mind-boggling amount of different shades of color for each light bulb. This is the ultimate latest in technology for Christmas lights. There is the possibility of over 16 million different colors and shades for each light bulb,” Walter enthuses.
The couple’s creations have sparked a growing interest of Christmas display enthusiasts across the United States. “We are big inventors in the hardware,” Walter says, adding that the couple are building a “mega” tree to their display this year. The tree will be 28-feet high by 12 feet wide in diameter at the bottom. With their computer programming, the tree has the capability to act like an electronic billboard. “The tree will feature the light nodes that can be programmed individually into an infinite number of Christmas light patterns,” Water says.
The display now requires over five miles of wire, and a virtual control room for the choreographed light show and Christmas train, that took Walter over a year to build by hand. The couple even broadcasts music synchronized to the light show over a low-power FM frequency. “The lights dance with the music,” Jackie adds.
Another crowd favorite are the toys from yesteryear, outlined with rope lights hanging from two stately oak trees in the front yard. The train continues to be the most popular item in the display. Other elements of the stunning display include massive bubble machines, a snow machine and handmade quilted pieces. Frosty the Snowman reportedly will be making an appearance this season and may even perform a dance of his own. “Our Magic Christmas is designed for people of all ages, from toddlers to the seniors, there is something for everyone,” Walter says.
Despite all the complexity of their Christmas display, the couple set it all up completely by themselves. “The display is highly technical and complicated, and allows for no mistakes. There are 47,000 things that could go wrong, and if even one thing goes wrong, it won’t work. To overcome the technical challenge and see it work, that is the biggest thrill,” Walter says. The two feel sheer joy when they see it all working, after all the hard work of putting it together. “Seeing the children’s faces and their smiles makes it all worthwhile,” adds Jackie.
Besides the technical wizardry, there are other obstacles to overcome to get the Magic Christmas show ready. “The weather can be a big obstacle,” Walter says. “Preparing the yard to accept the lights can be a challenge.”
Jackie says they like to start in early September, but this year it was just “too hot” to start that early. A time frame to get the display operational is always a challenge, the two add, especially when special lights and wires from Australia were delayed in customs. Rain is a deterring factor, too, as they cannot work out in the pouring rain setting up the structures or lights. Likewise, they are unable to operate the showcase during inclement weather. Weather permitting, the plan is to have everything ready to dazzle the neighbors by mid-December. Throughout the season, several thousand or so folks usually park and stand on the sidewalk to view the Monkhouse’s handiwork.
The two do it all just for the sheer joy of spreading Christmas cheer and to help motivate others to create their own display. “We want everyone to come out and see our Magic Christmas. We get the thrill of watching the old and young enjoy the creation we developed. It’s truly magic,” both Walter and Jackie chime in.
For more information about this year’s Magic Christmas display, visit Walter and Jackie online at www.MagicChristmas.org and “like” their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MagicChristmas to stay up-to-date with dates, times and parking information for visiting this year’s display.