Three-dimensional, sparkling Santa Clauses, reindeer and snowmen take a temporary residence in the yards of Illinois residents during December, and add to one of the nation’s largest annual outdoor lighting displays. Admission is free; to enjoy, all that is required is a stroll around the block.
But what if you can’t walk, or don’t want to walk, or you’re curled up on a couch with a mug of hot chocolate, your smartphone or computer, and you would rather click than walk. That’s where a small organization, K-3 Lights, approximately 76 miles south of Des Plaines, from Bourbonnais, IL, comes in.
Shane Saathoff, 26, founded K-3 Lights to showcase his photography in 2009. Since then, K-3 Lights has grown into a tightly scheduled, annual tour. Saathoff and his colleagues produce a series of community-specific videos in the Chicago area, including this video of lighting displays in Des Plaines.
“It's usually pretty treacherous out during the holiday season, and people should stay off the roads,” Saathoff stated in an email to Patch. “That's where we come in. You save gas, you save the time of finding these houses, and you save the stress of dealing with traffic.”
Saathoff said his work on K-3 Lights was funded “out of pocket,” but he used it to bring exposure to his photo restoration and other work through his independent Sterling Memories service.
Since beginning to photograph Christmas lights, Saathoff said, they have upgraded equipment and developed criteria for which lighting displays to include. They look for homes that took approximately 3-4 hours to decorate, he said, don’t have vehicles parked in the driveways and do not have open drapes or windows that would compromise the privacy of the residents.
“We aren't the paparazzi,” Saathoff stated. “We just want the home, you know? If it can pass those three qualifications, then it gets included in our videos.”
In addition to the slideshow video of Christmas lights displays in Des Plaines this year, Saathoff and crew made a second video of one of the houses dubbed, “The Chipmunks Song – Christmas Lights Show.”
Christmas Lights History
The tradition of decorating Christmas trees with electric lights dates back to the end of the 19th century, and it became a widespread tradition to decorate residences in the U.S. with the multi-colored lights in the 1960’s. The decoration stems from a German tradition of adorning Christmas trees with candles.
Thomas Edison, inventor of the first practical light bulb, made the first string of electric lights, according to the Library of Congress.
“During the Christmas season of 1880, these strands were strung around the outside of his Menlo Park Laboratory,” according to the Library of Congress’ website. “Railroad passengers traveling by the laboratory got their first look at an electrical light display.”
Edward H. Johnson is credited with creating the first string of lights to decorate a Christmas tree in 1882, according to the Library of Congress, and Albert Sadacca and his family led commercial sales of the mini-lights from the 1920’s to the 1960’s.