With 30,000 LED lights shining bright on the lawn, perfectly synced to holiday tunes, it's clear that one San Diego-based Navy mineman loves Christmas – a trait passed down by his beloved late father.
“When I was a kid, my dad did a Christmas display at our house that you could see across the bay. It was super elaborate and he did it for us and the neighborhood kids,” Santee resident Michael Balazs told NBC 7, referring to his father, Dean Balazs.
Today, the Balazs Christmas spirit has been handed down to Michael, and his own massive lights display shines at his home at 9773 Roe Dr.
For the past five years, the Navy mineman, who is stationed at Naval Base San Diego, puts on a festive lights show on his front lawn for his entire neighborhood to enjoy, complete with different colored lights, spiraling Christmas trees, decorative lawn displays and even holograms of Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus projected on the windows of his home.
The show is synced to eight holiday songs, including “Silent Night,” “Carol of the Bells” and other classics. This year, Michael's lights also dance along to “Let it Go” from the movie “Frozen” – a favorite among young spectators, including his 3-year-old daughter.
Michael runs his show on an FM transmitter, 98.5, so spectators can watch the show and listen to the music from their cars. There's also a speaker in front of the display that plays the show for all to hear.
Though the Christmas show requires year-round preparation and at least one month of set-up, Michael told NBC 7 the effort is worth it, as the show is meant to honor his father, who lost his battle to Ewing's sarcoma on Feb. 11, 2009.
The show is titled “DB Lights” as nod to his father's initials and true love of the holiday season.
“He was one of the greatest people I've ever met,” said Michael, remembering his father, a retired Navy service member who worked as a ship supervisor at a shipyard, among other duties.
The December before his death, as Dean's cancer progressed to stage 4, Michael said his dad watched some YouTube videos of massive, elaborate Christmas light displays and vowed that, if he survived, would do the same on his lawn.
“He told me, 'I will do this, if I make it through,'” Michael recalled.
Dean passed away two months later, and Michael assumed the role of spreading holiday cheer, just as his father always did.
“Christmas was his favorite time of the year, and following his death, I knew this would make him look down and smile.”
Like Dean, Michael does this for his family and for the kids in his community.
“I want them all to come enjoy it,” he added.
Over the span of five years, DB Lights has grown substantially. What started as a 10,000-light show on 32 channels is now a 30,000-light extravaganza running on 478 channels. With the help of about 10 friends, he gets the display up and running at the top of December each year.
In 2012, Michael upgraded to LED lights, something he calls the “best decision ever” for his show.
“I am running the entire display off of two outlets, for safety reasons. It's 11 amps, so it's less than a vacuum cleaner. The whole thing, full power, is 11 amps,” he explained.
And, although it's a whole lot of lights, Michael said his electricity bill is about $70 extra to run the display for the month of December.
While rain and cold weather is trying on his Christmas lights, Michael said, fortunately, he's never experienced any major malfunctions. He said the great thing about his professional quality LED lights is that you don't have to worry about one burned-out bulb ruining the rest of a string.
“When you're dealing with 30,000 lights, one light going out is not what you want to mess with,” he laughed.
While spectators may be floored with the dancing lights that shine in any color of the rainbow and the Santa hologram in the window, other display pieces on his lawn are worth a closer look.
Michael said all of the displays – including Christmas trees loaded with spiraling lights and a sign that lights up the words “CURE” and “HOPE” to bring awareness to cancer research – were handmade by him over the years.
Also, several vintage blow-molds – Santa Claus and some cheery snowmen – hold a very special place in his heart. They come from his father's Christmas collection and remind him of his childhood.
“That Santa Claus sat on the roof of my house when I was a kid. Those snowmen were in the front yard. They're from when I was a little kid,” Michael explained. “They're hand-me-downs from my family, and I'm going to hand them down to my daughter, too.”
Another batch of lights that catches the eye is a giant sign on his neighbor's roof that reads “DITTO,” with an arrow pointing at Michael's epic display.
Michael made the sign for his neighbor himself and his neighbor thought it was hilarious and was happy to put it on his roof.
Michael said all of his neighbors are supportive of his project and stop by to check on the progress as he builds the display year after year.
Michael said visitors are very supportive too.
He collects donations for cancer research charities in a box placed near the lights, which is filled by passersby each night. At the end of the season, he gives the donations to charities such as the American Cancer Society and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Spectators can also leave a note for Michael in a guest book laid in front of the lawn – a book he reads each night and saves as a keepsake each year.
Michael said he often likes to come outside and speak with visitors as they enjoy the light show and pass out candy canes. He said seeing the smiles on people's faces makes every last string of worthwhile, and he know his father would feel the same.
The DB Lights show runs every night, from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and through 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. This year, the last show is set for Dec. 27 – the Sunday following Christmas.
Michael invites locals to drop into his cul-de-sac and said seeing the show first-hand is quite the experience.
“Seeing the videos and pictures, literally don't do it justice. It's 100 times better live,” he said. “Please come see it in person and remember, cancer is a horrible, horrible disease and we have to do everything we can to fight it.”
Once the lights are switched off for the season, Michael said it will take him about a week to tear down the displays and another week to store the lights.
He'll begin conceptualizing next year's show shortly after that, waiting like a kid on Christmas morning to see the joy on the faces of spectators once more as the lights sparkle in honor of his dear dad.