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St. Helens family creates annual digital light display, complete with synchronized music and fundraiser for local food bank

    A St. Helens woman living on East Division Road has made it a holiday tradition to wow visitors with a light display synchronized to

music streaming over the radio.

For the past seven years, Gwen Mays and her late husband, Randy, have been setting up light displays that sprawl across their yard with lights strewn everywhere — wrapped around tree trunks, laid out on the lawn and arranged in free-standing exhibits. The lights flicker in specially designed sequences that make them look like they're dancing in time to music.

Randy designed the shows and did the programing and coding for them until his death in 2015. Afterward, Gwen Mays chose to continue the shows in his honor and memory.

On Tuesday evening, Dec. 19, the Quiroz family enjoyed the display from their mini-van parked across the street from the house at 35321 E. Division Road.

With music streaming from the radio, 4-year-old Abby and 6-year-old Grayson sat quietly in the back of the van with a window open so they could see. Grayson described the show as "amazing," and he was especially intrigued by the detail and colors.

The family is one of many who have come to see the display over the years, with numerous visitors hearing about the "Christmas House" through word of mouth, Mays explained.

The Mays set up their first show in 2010 with a small display that incorporated 16 sets of lights programmed to turn off and on at a specific time. This year, the display incorporates 96 sets of lights programmed to come on at a specific time. Randy Mays was a systems engineer and had decided in 2010 to upgrade the family's light display by writing code to trigger the light show.

"It was the latest, greatest computer lightshow technology — and creativity — that was really the inspiration," Mays said when asked about the couple's inspiration. "We also wanted to start a tradition with our family and for our neighbors to enjoy. Little did we know it would grow and become a yearly event for other families."

This year's display includes old classics, country hits, rock mashups and other musical pieces, including "Don't Stop the Santa Man," "Silver Bells," "Christmas Eve in Sarajevo," "Blue Christmas" and more. The songs are usually family favorites and displays at the house are broken into four sets, which range in musical style and length from 15 minutes to half an hour.

It takes about six hours to perfectly sync one minute of music with the correct sequence of lights, Mays explained.

Mays has continued the tradition for many reasons, but said bringing joy to those who spend time watching the light show is one of her favor-

ite parts of putting on the display.

"When you hear the excitement of the kids and when they get out of the car dancing and having fun to the music and the light, when you see moms and dads dancing with their little ones, that child-like feeling of Christmas returns," Mays explained. "Those are very emotional moments."

Planning to see a show? Don't forget to bring a nonperishable food or supply donation for the Columbia Pacific Food Bank. While drawing in crowds for the show, the Mays also uses the show as an opportunity to give back. Each year, they have been able to donate hundreds of pounds of food items along with cash donations.

"There are many people and families needing assistance in our county. The numbers are staggering," Gwen Mays said. "If the show can contribute in a small way to raise awareness and donations, then it has been put to good use."

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