GOWEN — Gowen resident David White has been decorating his home for the holidays for 12 years — he calls it his passion.
But if you were to ask someone who has visited the White residence anytime after dark this holiday season, they will more than likely tell you his passion to decorate has created a unique spectacle of lights and music worth paying to see.
In the daytime, 14181 Macclain Ave. is simply the address of White’s home where he moved his family to from Ohio just a year and a half ago.
But at night, his yard becomes a must-see drive-in light show that features thousands of lights and decorations synched to 30 different songs that play throughout the evening.
“It’s a hobby, that’s what it is,” White said of his light display. “When I was a kid I liked Christmas lights, so I thought I’d go just a little overboard and it just kind of grew from there.”
Inspired by a Budweiser commercial featuring Christmas lights set to a holiday tune by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, White took it upon himself to research computer control of electronics.
Working in his basement he spent one month arranging light displays for two songs. Today, he works year-round and now has a catalog of more than 30 songs that are synchronized to light displays.
White uses a computer program and writes his very own custom light displays for every song that is played, as opposed to a “plug-and-play” system where lights go on and off with the beat of a song. He estimates on average it takes anywhere from one week to a month to write out a display for a new song.
“Each night I play 15 songs,” he said. “The next night, if you come back, it will be 15 different songs and you’ll see a whole different show from the first night.”
White featured his display for the first time in Gowen last year, but ran into problems as his display attracted drivers who ended up parking on Macclain Avenue.
“Last year, my first year here in Gowen, I had my display in the front yard,” he said. “But people parked up and down Mcclain and the sheriff was eventually called in to clear up the road.”
Due to popular demand, White moved his display to the side of his house and spent the past year reworking his driveway into a circle with a dirt parking lot which can fit several rows of cars.
“It varies by night, but I’ve had that little lot completely full some nights,” he said. “I’d guess as many as 30 cars.”
And White would know, as he frequently makes rounds throughout the cars passing out candy canes to children with his wife and family.
White’s “Winter Wonderland” is open to the public at no charge, and according to White, has brought people from as far away as Traverse City to see the show.
Rebecca Wheeler, who drove up from Grand Rapids with her husband, Jeremy, and four daughters Wednesday night, couldn’t believe the sight when she arrived.
“All I can say is, ‘Wow,’” she said. “It’s awesome and the kids love it. We just thought it would be lights but this goes to the music, it’s unbelievable. The kids just keep saying ‘It’s magical,’ they can’t believe it.”
According to Jeremy Wheeler, there’s nothing else quite like it that he’s seen in the Grand Rapids area.
“There are people that have lights, but nothing like this,” he said. “I’m going to go tell a lot of people in downtown (Grand Rapids) and they’ll make the drive for something like this. It’s one of a kind, I’ll tell you that.”
White uses an FM transmitter which allows him to broadcast the music from his laptop right into the stereos in people’s cars, as long as they turn their dials to the correct station.
“People just have to pull right up, turn their radio station to 89.1 FM and enjoy the show,” he said.
White says he has no plans now or in the future to charge for anyone to see his show, claiming that’s “not what it’s about.”
“I like to build and create, I like to try and make it come to life,” he said. “It’s a hobby I get to share with people five weeks of the year and as I say, it’s our Christmas present to the community.”
White and his family have only been a part of that community for one and half years, but his wife, Shelly, says their family immediately felt right at home living just outside of Greenville.
“We’ve been doing this show for six years, but only here in Michigan have we received cookies and candy from people in appreciation for the show we put on,” she said. “People don’t have to do that, they never have before, but everyone is just very friendly here in this area. There are a lot of big-hearted people in this community.”
What White puts into the show, from his lights to the candy canes he hands out, comes out of his own pocket. Though there is a donation box for people to contribute to as they exit the show, White said everything he collects goes straight to charity.
“That donation box is there if they want to donate, that’s all,” he said. “It all goes to charity. If I ever get to the day where I have to take donations to run the display, that will be the day I quit doing it.”
But White said he doesn’t expect a donation and doesn’t want people to feel they have to donate in order to enjoy his show.
“Some people can’t (donate),” he said. “I get a lot of single moms or single dads and they don’t have much. They can come here three, four, five times and it doesn’t cost them a cent. It’s a good time, their kids are loving it and that’s what it is all about.”
White’s Winter Wonderland is open until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays until New Year’s Eve. It opens at dusk on Thanksgiving Day every year.
For more information on White’s Winter Wonderland, visit www.whiteswinterwonderland.com.