The process starts the day after Halloween.
Federal Way residents Sharon and Carl Hultman sort through their hundreds of LED Christmas lights, having packed them away neatly the winter before and checked to see if all bulbs still work. Each box contains lights for a specific section of their yard and home.
The goal is to have all of the Christmas lights — over 40,000 lights in total last time they counted — on display and ready to shine by Thanksgiving.
“I think of it as my winter art project,” said Sharon Hultman, 71. As a graphic arts designer, Sharon previously worked in web design for the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. “I like the harmony of colors that look good together.”
She is the creative mastermind of their Christmas light extravaganza, while Carl, 80, is the muscles behind the project.
Since 1989, this has been the Hultmans’ annual Christmas tradition and something community members or neighbors look forward to each holiday season.
“I hang every strand of lights myself,” Sharon said as she gazed at the Christmas lights on a recent evening. “Often I come out here to just look and admire them.”
The Hultman’s home stands out along the 32200 block of 2nd Avenue SW in Federal Way. Each tree, bush, handrail and garden bed is adorned with vibrant colored lights. Twinkling lights hang from the home’s roof and a decorative, handmade Christmas tree made from chicken wire, black bamboo and lights covers the front patio fountain.
When the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2014, the Hultmans made a Seahawks-themed display in the yard with bright blues and greens.
The show is on display from 4 p.m. to midnight every day.
In the late 1990s, LED (light emitting diode) Christmas lights became more widely used, producing brighter lights for lower cost and without heat.
In 2007, the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree switched to all LED lights, according to the United States Department of Energy. Federal Way’s holiday tree in Town Square Park has also been lit with LED lights since 2018, along with the holiday snowflake light displays on city streets. This LED swap helps the city save both money and electricity, said Jason Gerwen, parks and facilities manager for Federal Way.
Prior to LED bulbs, the Hultmans’ electricity bills used to be upwards of $700 during the holiday season.
In the incandescent bulb days, one quick switch of their daughter’s hairdryer would take out the entire light show. On dark winter mornings, Carl Hultman would be sure to turn the lights early as the school bus stop was directly across the street from their house.
As a kid, their daughter Lindsey Hultman said there was a little bit of embarrassment “that we stood out so much.” As an adult, the magic begins to show again.
“It’s been really awesome to be a part of helping them put it together now,” said Lindsey, who moved back to Washington when she had her son. “Seeing it through his eyes and to see him get to enjoy it as a kid is pretty delightful.”
The couple also hands out 3-D glasses for people to look at the lights. The lenses of the glasses turn each light into the shape of a snowman or other holiday shape. While Federal Way residents are the general audience, the Hultmans also have their three children and nine grandchildren to impress — meaning lots of helping hands at the ready, too.
On a December evening, Carl Hultman points out the candy cane lights lining the walkway, a hidden polar bear and reindeer, and makes sure no one misses sight of the snowflake at the top of the house.
“This way, we add a little joy to someone else’s Christmas,” he said. “That’s really special.”