APG ‘ELF’ lights up the holiday

The holiday light display at the home of APG contractor Stephen Ulrich is on full display in 2015. This year's similar, but more elaborate, display is set to be unveiled Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. | Courtesy Photo

NORTH EAST, Md – At the end of the holiday season, when the last string of lights is taken down and the decorations are put away, next Christmas is probably the farthest thing from anyone’s mind.

For one group, however, next year’s plans are already in full swing as they need every spare moment to deliver a day that will bring communities together and leave adults and children in awe.

Contrary to popular belief, elves don’t all live in the North Pole. Members of the ELFs can be found all around the world; and one resides just down the road in Cecil County.

That ELF, or Extreme Lighting Fanatic, is Stephen Ulrich, a contractor with the U.S. Army Communications-Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, who has been putting on a holiday show that attracts people from around the region for the past three years.

Bigger and better

Since he was turned on to the hobby four years ago by a friend, Ulrich said he has made each light display bigger and better then the last. This year’s display is comprised of nearly 18,000 lights, up from the 7,000 lights he used last year.

The lights he uses, however, cannot be found in local stores. Known as “Pixels,” these lights have the ability to dance and move in several different directions. They can also switch to 50,000 different colors.

“If you like the color of Anna’s dress in “Frozen,” I can make it that color pink, or the blue in Luke Skywalker’s light saber is a cool looking blue. So I can get that color and flash it at certain times,” Ulrich said.

APG contractor Stephen Ulrich connects his candy cane lights to the controller after resolving a short circuit. Ulrich is expecting over 200 people to attend his opening night holiday show Nov. 25.
APG contractor Stephen Ulrich connects his candy cane lights to the controller after resolving a short circuit. Ulrich is expecting over 200 people to attend his opening night holiday show Nov. 25. | U.S. Army Photo by Kelly Luster

While choosing the right color for each bulb is a lot of work in itself, each light also has to be sequenced correctly so that it dances in time with the song. Programming the light sequences can take Ulrich 10 to 40 hours.

He said it has already taken him nine hours to sequence only 30 seconds of “Carol of the Bells,” a song featured in this year’s show.

“Trying to make different elements dance with those beats and rhythms… it’s a lot of work… My wife doesn’t see me for about a month,” he said.

Opening night at the Ulrich house, located at 172 Flintstone Drive in North East, Maryland, begins 6 p.m., Friday, Nov. 25. He said hot chocolate and cocoa will be served to attendees. In the spirit of the season, Ulrich will also collect non-perishable food items for a local food pantry, as well as donations for a local children’s hospital.

The light display will run 5 to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; and 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday through Christmas night and then on a limited basis.

“Seeing how everyone else enjoys it,” is Ulrich’s favorite part of the work he puts into his show. He said during the shows, regardless of the weather, he and his daughter walk among the visitors, chatting with those who came from near and far to see the lights.

“Last year I played “Frozen,” he said. “[While] I’m walking up and down the street and you hear the little kids yelling, ‘It’s Frozen!’ That’s the stuff; the little kids, giving them candy canes, and seeing their smiles. I don’t like missing a night outside.”

For more information about the Ulrich light display, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/FlintstoneLights/.

Story by Lauren Finnegan, APG News