Dan Brateris created a Christmas light show that is brightening the holidays for thousands of people and spreading good cheer across the state.
The dazzling light and music show, replete with 20-foot flame shooters, is attracting massive crowds and national media attention.
And for good reason. Brateris, a University Lecturer in Engineering Technology at New Jersey Institute of Technology, used his engineering skills to design the show, which features 1,000 strands of lights, 80,000 bulbs, four flame shooters, color-changing lights and robotic effects -- all synchronized to hard-thumping rock-n-roll Christmas tunes. The lights accentuate each thump of a song, while the flame shooters throw fire 20 feet into the night sky.
“A massive amount of engineering goes into designing the gear that controls this epic light and music show,” says Brateris, who this past semester taught three Engineering Technology classes. One of his classes, Embedded Systems, relates directly to the engineering work he does on his Christmas light show. “I use embedded systems to control the lights,” he adds, “and I used the light show as a case study in my class, illustrating to students how embedded systems are used to create real-life devices.”
Brateris, 28, also owns a small engineering firm and a DJ business. Nine years ago, on a whim, he, his brother and a friend decided to take his DJ gear and see if they could time music to Christmas lights. They did it on a friend’s house. It worked. The neighbors loved it, so they decided to make the show a holiday tradition. All three are also fans of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a band that incorporates synchronized lights and pyrotechnics into its shows.
Over the years, Brateris’s show has expanded into a full blown spectacular. Last year the show attracted 10,000 viewers. Brateris said a friend, Bill Epp, volunteers his house in Wall Township to host the show. The house is set high on an old apple orchard with a spacious lawn and plenty of trees to hang lights on.
That’s where the crowds gather. The seven volunteers who help Brateris set up a food court that doles out snacks and hot chocolate to the crowds who gather on the lawn. Both the food and the shows are free and open to all. The next show is Friday, Dec. 20, at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and the last show is Sunday, Dec. 22, same times. The show’s address is 2702 Wooley Road, Wall Township, N.J. Brateris recommends getting there 30 minutes early and checking his website before leaving for a show, which can be cancelled due to bad weather. Santa Claus and his elves also make an effort to attend the shows.
Perhaps most importantly, the show raises money for a worthy cause. Though it’s free, donations are accepted to benefit Challenge Youth Sports, a nonprofit group that sponsors recreational sports and builds playgrounds for children with disabilities. In eight years, the light show has raised $30,000 for the Lincroft based-charity.
The light show is a labor of love for Brateris, who, with a group of seven friends and neighbors, begin working on it in mid-October. Christmas is the season of giving, he says, and the show is their way of giving back; at first to their neighborhood; then, as the show grew in popularity, to the the region and now to the entire state, since people flock to it from as far away as Cape May and Mahwah.
One of the volunteers is Wyatt Ferguson, a senior at NJIT who majors in mechanical engineering. He helps with the light show, he says, because the donations it generates helps children.
“We donate all of our time in hopes of helping disabled children at the charity that we sponsor,” says Ferguson. “I’m also friends with the volunteer crew and my older brother is involved. And though it’s a lot of work, we laugh, we have fun, and we get to press the F key on the keyboard that sets off the flamethrowers! We all enjoy working together, especially when it is to benefit those in need.”
Brateris agrees, and says his wages come in the form of radiant smiles.
“All of us who create the Christmas light show love engineering so the work is fun for us,” Brateris says. “Last year, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a few people came up to me after the show and thanked me, saying they didn’t have a lot of money that year, so to see a professional show like this for free was a blessing. Adults love the show and kids absolutely go crazy for it. When I see their faces light up with smiles, that’s all the thanks I need.”