An extravagant light display is a sure-fire way to make people smile during the holiday season.
But the creator of one Pulaski County Christmas lights show is more concerned with the joy he spreads long after those lights come down.
“Since being a little, little kid, that was my favorite thing to do, was to help my mom decorate the front yard,” Shane Johnson said Monday. “And I slowly started, kind of taking it over, and so, it was just kind of the idea of, you know, ‘what can we do to make it bigger and better than we have before.”
“Bigger and better” originally meant lights, which now number roughly 20,000 across his family’s yard and those of his two next door neighbors on Jupiter Drive.
“People love to express how much they enjoy seeing all the lights, and it’s wonderful to hear those reactions,” he stated. “And a lot of people also ask, ‘How do we do it? How does it work? How long does it take to put up?’ And we enjoy just being able to stand outside and explain.”
“I mean, this is just pure love,” said Kayla Richey, who drove with her family from Benton to see the display. "What he has done is nothing but pure love. This is so gorgeous! I love this!”
Johnson said his favorite part of the display is a series of small trees that are covered with individually-programmable pixels.
“They can do some awesome effects, and whatnot,” he noted. “They can do, like, rainbow spirals, and stuff that your normal, traditional Christmas lights can’t do.”
This year, he decided to give his viewers control of the song list. He built a jukebox to allow them to pick which songs play out over his radio frequency.
“Since I am a child of the 80’s, I love listening to the 80’s hits,” Richey mentioned. “But he also has ‘Mad Russian Christmas,’ ‘Rock Around the Christmas Tree,’ I mean, he has a variety of songs that just go beautiful with all the lights.”
After the first year of his “Lights on Jupiter,” Johnson figured that “better” also meant using the lights for good. He put up a collection box and asks for donations to give to Make-a-Wish Mid-South.
“In previous years, we‘ve raised $1,200 and $1,300, and so, this year we’re hoping to top all of that and go to $1,500.”
Johnson said the donations are ahead of 2016’s pace, so he is confident he will reach his goal. Being able to help kids whose lives are a little tougher than his adds an extra dimension to his Christmas. “We’ve actually gotten Christmas cards from kids,” he added. “One kid, I want to say, went on a shopping spree, and another one got to go on a really awesome trip.”
Johnson is a senior in high school at eStem, and he began this tradition while in eighth grade. He spends the entire year planning and programming the show, then nearly two weeks installing it. He plans to attend UA-Little Rock, which will allow him to continue the Lights on Jupiter while he pursues a degree in computer science.
“I’m just all excited, in awe,” Richey said as she stared at the scene. “I feel like a little kid watching this!”
“I think it’s just wonderful, because it’s great to see the smiles of people, but it’s also great to know that our cause is being able to help people, as well,” Johnson stated.
Johnson will turn on the “Lights on Jupiter” every night, weather permitting, until January 1. They run from 5:30-9:30 p.m. on weeknights, and until 10:15 p.m. on weekends. The show is free to watch for anyone who comes by 9312 Jupiter Drive, though Johnson asks for a donation of at least $1.
Johnson also has a link on his website that allows anyone to donate directly to Make-a-Wish Mid-South.