Love of Community and Smiles
James and Dottie DeBusk love two things more than anything: their community and making people smile, and that’s their driving motivation behind the incredible annual Apollo Beach Christmas Light show they’ve created and grown since 2011.
“James had some health issues between 2008 and 2010,” Dottie explains. “While recovering around the holidays he began watching Christmas light shows on TV and finding Facebook pages. He decided he wanted to do something similar.”
In 2011, Dottie and James assembled their first Apollo Beach Christmas Light Show. “Looking back,” Dottie says, “it was the tiniest display. We used tiny trees and little displays. We had no idea what to buy or what we were doing. It was the rinkiest thing, but the community loved it and so we kept doing it.”
From Little Light Show to Incredible Spectacle
Today, Dottie and James clearly know what they’re doing. The Apollo Beach Christmas Light Show boasts about 300,000 lights (they’ve lost count), plays about 31 songs – all sequenced to light movement. The full show lasts about 90 minutes.
Each year about 2000-3000 people come to enjoy the show. It’s free and Dottie and James are outside each night greeting passers-by and handing out candy canes.
“We give out more than 12 large buckets of candy canes,” James says. “The big buckets from Costco.”
This Christmas Light Show Is Run By Computer
Over the years James and Dottie have learned a lot. In fact, James has taught himself how to use the complex Light-O-Rama software required to program and coordinate the light movements to music.
Every second of every song must be programmed to coordinate with specific light movements. It takes James about 20 hours of computer work to program just one song. This year’s show includes 31 ‘sequenced’ songs where viewers can watch red, green and white lights trailing through the various Christmas displays in perfect sync with the music. James changes the show each year. He has over 220 songs sequenced and adds more songs and sequenced lights each year.
A Sony surround sound system, placed throughout the yard, plays the songs that are the backdrop to the show.
A crowd favorite? The Amazing Grace techno song and show.
Have You Ever Seen 5 Miles of Extension Cords? The Show Is A Labor of Love
“We get help to set everything up from friends,” James says. “Also, Dottie’s and my employer asks some of its workers to help with set up. In all, it takes 5 or 6 people about 3 weeks to get everything up and running.” James’s Mom also helps, dropping off display items and lights. This year she dropped off the new 36″ led snowflakes.
Why so many lights (other than how beautiful they look)? Each display and tree must be decorated three times with white, green and red lights. This changing lights colors is one of the reasons the show is so spectacular. Each tree takes about 8 hours to prepare, although the ‘mega-tree’ in the center of the show requires much more time. It has 21,600 lights alone.
How is the whole show managed? By computer. James manages every night’s show from his laptop.
Equipment and Logistics? Seventeen control boxes with 16 channels each are placed in different parts of the yard, each controlling a different set of displays. 5 miles of extension cords connect all of the displays and control boxes.
Electricity? After the first ‘rinky’ show in 2011 Dottie and James had to add a second full electrical panel to their home to accommodate the growing show (you don’t just plug in 300,000 Christmas lights and hope for the best). They have a second 250 amp box in their home that TECO had to sign off on.
Off season storage? I know everyone is wondering who has a garage big enough to store this many Christmas decorations. Fortunately, a recently acquired ‘holiday barn’ now houses all of the equipment and displays in the off season.
A Neighborhood Affair
The neighbors love the show and many have begun putting up their own light displays, adding to the fun of driving in the area.
“People are respectful,” James says. “The people who come to see the show drive carefully, don’t litter, and really just come to enjoy the lights and music.”
The DeBusks don’t advertise because, in their words, the show is for the local community.
For a Good Cause
Dottie and James fund this Christmas Light Show personally. Each year they spend thousands of dollars replacing broken or worn pieces, upgrading various displays and pieces of equipment and buying all of the odds and ends required to make the show happen (software, extension cords, electrical equipment, etc…).
How many hours do they spend creating, putting up the show, decorating each display three times, running the show, and tearing the show down? Nobody knows. It’s an endless job, but one they love. It’s also worth noting that both both Dottie and James each have full-time jobs so the Christmas Light Show is built in the evening and on weekends.
The show is free, but Dottie and James do have collection boxes out front if people want to give. All donations go directly to St. Anne’s Church in Ruskin. The DeBusks do not use any of the donations to fund the display.
We Like to Make People Happy
Ever since the first show, even as small as they claim it was, Dottie and James have kept their enthusiasm for creating this enormous extravaganza because it makes people happy.
“We’ve been blown away,” Dottie says. “Everyone loves it. We like to make people happy and we love to do it for our community.”
Address: 486 Florida Circle North, Apollo Beach, Florida (on the corner of Fairfield and Florida Circle North).
Dates: From Thanksgiving evening and runs through Advent, about 12 days after Christmas.
Time: 6-9PM Sunday- Thursday and 6-10PM on Friday and Saturday.
Parking: There is an empty lot across the street where people can park and watch the show. Viewers can also tune in to 99.9FM to listen to the music. The DeBusks kindly ask you do not block anyone’s driveway.
For more information: Apollo Beach Christmas Show Facebook Page
A special thank you to Walter Dobek for allowing me to share his beautiful photographs in this article. As an amateur photographer I’ve yet to grasp the ability of photographing Christmas lights at night (or, anything at night for that matter).
Let us know what you think of the Apollo Beach Christmas Light Show. Comment below.