SOUTH JORDAN — Fourteen years ago, when Richard Holdman started creating traffic jams outside his home in Pleasant Grove because of all the people who wanted to drive by his house and see his animated choreographed Christmas lights, he had no idea he was laying the foundation for a new career for himself, much less an industry for the world.
And he had even less of an idea that he had come up with the perfect business for a pandemic.
Holdman, 47, loves lights, art and music as much as he loves technology. Following the lead of his photographer father, Floyd, who used to go overboard lighting up the family house Richard grew up in during the holidays, when he moved into a house of his own he carried on the tradition. And then some.
Just lots of lights wasn’t enough. He brought in music and choreography and turned the house into a concert. By 2009 he’d gotten so good at it that he posted that year’s edition — with the house performing “Amazing Grace” — on YouTube. The clip has generated over 42 million views. (You can see it on YouTube by typing in “Amazing Grace Holdman.”)
At the time, he was happily and steadily employed as a graphic designer for a printing company.
But as word spread of his Christmas lighting genius, Holdman started getting contacted by malls and other businesses asking him to do animated lighting shows for them, which he began doing on the side. Among these part-time employers was a company that does ice castle sculptures at various sites around the country, including the annual one at the Homestead Resort in Midway.
One day Holdman was talking to the owners of the company and asked if they’d consider backing him in doing a stand-alone animated Christmas light show.
All they’d need is a large open field that cars could drive through, and about a million lights that he would install and put to music.
That, in a nutshell, is how the business “Christmas in Color” was born.
Their first show was staged six years ago on land located next to the Olympic Oval in Kearns. When that property became unavailable they moved to the Salt Lake County Fairgrounds in South Jordan, where the show has become a popular holiday tradition the past three years.
General admission is $35 for a vehicle. Some people show up in pickup trucks filled to the brim. Doesn’t matter. A vehicle’s a vehicle.
The course is slightly less than a mile long and takes a half-hour or so to drive through. Imagine going on “It’s a Small World” or some other Disneyland ride, only in South Jordan, in your own car.
To reduce traffic snarls, reservations can be made in advance on the Christmas in Color website: christmasincolor.net.
Business has been brisk every year, but during the pandemic year of 2020 all attendance records have been broken — not only at the South Jordan location, but at the other Christmas in Color locations in Minnesota, Colorado, California and Idaho.
It’s hard to imagine a group activity more COVID-19-friendly. Everything is done online. Human contact is virtually nonexistent. Tickets are scanned through car windows by mask-wearing employees while everyone remains isolated in their own small groups in their own vehicles. And it all takes place outside.
“It’s a very safe activity. People stay in their cars, they’re away from other groups, and they can still enjoy a Christmas tradition,” said Holdman. “We’ve been fortunate that we can continue to operate during lockdowns.”
Every year, as might be expected, Holdman has seen more competitors emerge.
“It’s becoming quite popular,” said the Thomas Edison of commercial drive-through Christmas lighting shows.
“Even six, seven years ago, I never thought Christmas lights would be my full-time business,” mused Holdman. “As a kid I hated putting them up just because my dad wanted so many. But it became a tradition. So when I grew up I would always put up lights, too.”
Floyd Holdman died of cancer four years ago, but not before he was able to drive through his son’s show and see the tradition he’d started so grandly magnified. “He saw the first show,” said Richard. “He loved it. When we finished he asked, ‘Can we go through again?’ I said, ‘Yes we can. We can drive through as many times as you’d like.’”