Lou Beach, of Bel Air, watched Monday night as his 9-year-old daughter, Abi, and her friend, Amber Shaw, 10, danced and played around while being illuminated by strings of colored lights that resembled a Christmas tree on a wall of St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Bel Air.
The tree is one of three displays of Christmas lights arranged on the grounds and walls of St. Matthew, which is highly visible from Route 22 as people travel in and out of Bel Air. The displays are open to the public each night during the holiday season through Dec. 31. Visitors can stand in the church parking lot, or sit in their vehicles, as the Christmas tree display, the combined Santa Claus and trees display and the manger scene flash in time to Christmas songs.
"It's fantastic," Beach said. "It's exciting and really shows the holiday spirit, and it's just beautifully done; its just a wonder to look at."
The girls, silhouetted by the flashing Christmas tree, were also impressed.
"I think it's really fantastic," Abi said. "It's really awesome, but it's hard to put into words."
Amber, who also lives in Bel Air, noted the various forms the strings of lights took.
"I think that it's really pretty that they put lots of trees and lights everywhere, with snowflakes," she said.
The light displays are the brainchild of Bel Air resident Jim Kurtz, who lives in the nearby Amyclae Estates subdivision, and were created with the cooperation of St. Matthew leaders and volunteers.
Kurtz's home on Corinthian Court has been the scene of elaborate Christmas light displays synchronized to music for the past three years – he also decorated his home with lights for Halloween that were synchronized to the hit song "The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)" by Ylvis.
Kurtz's light display for Christmas 2012 was synchronized to Carly Rae Jepsen's hit "Call Me Maybe."
"Last year I put 10,000 lights on my house and it became quite an attraction," Kurtz said Monday.
He said the popularity of his light displays, which were installed with the help of his wife and two children, caused traffic backups in his neighborhood and caused irritation among his neighbors.
He explained he was looking for a larger venue for this year's display, which includes about 22,000 lights, and was introduced to Blaise Sedney, associate pastor at St. Matthew.
"It got to be so popular and so large, and I wanted to find a new palette, if you will, and so we needed a larger venue, some place that could accommodate more lights and also offer us a better traffic flow," Kurtz explained.
Sedney said the church has hosted Christmas displays such as a live manger scene in the past, but church officials "decided we'd do something bigger, something different" for 2013.
The result was the light displays.
Sedney said the soft opening took place last Friday, and about 50 cars showed up. He said about 150 cars were in the lot Saturday.
"Word's getting out, so it's growing," he explained. "We think as the season goes on it'll get bigger and bigger."
St. Matthew is at 1200 E. Churchville Road across from Brier Hill Drive. The displays are open to the public from 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 6 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
The displays, which are computer-controlled, run on a 20-minute loop and are synchronized to songs such as "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," sung by Frank Sinatra, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Eve Sarajevo."
The songs can be heard in the car by tuning the radio to 107.5 FM. Kurtz said visitors can also hear a "narrated story about the birth of Jesus" from the manger scene.
Admission is free, but Sedney said visitors are encouraged to bring food donations for the St. Matthew Food Pantry.
Church members and residents of the church's House of Hope, a transitional house for men, have volunteered to staff the light displays.
"The location required a huge support from the people of St. Matthew," Kurtz said.