The annual display of the Osborne’s Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, going on now through Jan. 5, is a sight to behold. Think millions of lights in all the colors of the rainbow; think twinkling stars and shining trees. Let your imagination go wild; add music and some more lights! So many lights, actually, that the Arkansas Supreme Court had to step in. But let’s take it from the beginning.
In 1986, Jennings Osborne of Little Rock, Arkansas, fulfilled his then 6-year-old daughter Breezy’s wish and decorated their house with 1,000 red lights for the holiday season. Over the years he expanded his Christmas lights display into a full-fledged, over-the-top holiday show. In an effort to silence his neighbor’s complaints, he even purchased the two houses next to his home. Each of these houses had storage sheds in their backyards chuck filled with Christmas lights. But as his collection grew, so did the displeasure of his neighbors. The annual Christmas lights became a source of extreme irritation.
The spirit of Christmas was severely tested when the matter was brought to court. In 1994, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that his houses, with over 3 million lights, were a public nuisance.
Bruce Laval, at that time Executive Vice President of Theme Parks, heard about the court ruling in the news and mentioned it to John Phelan, show director for Disney Creative Entertainment. Disney had been trying for some time to come up with a holiday event for what was at the time still Disney MGM Studios. They thought they were onto something and contacted Jennings Osborne, who turned out to be a huge Disney fan. Things moved fast, and in 1995, the Walt Disney Company came to an agreement with Jennings Osborne to bring the Osborne’s Christmas Lights to Disney’s MGM Studios.
It took four 18-wheel moving vans to haul the Christmas lights to Orlando, and technicians worked around the clock for weeks to get the display ready for the holiday season. On November 24th, 1995, the Osborne Christmas light show marveled guests for the first time and it has done so ever since. Jennings Osborne didn’t ask money for his lights but agreed with Disney that every year he and his family would visit as of December 23rd till the New Year. Disney made sure he, his wife, Mitzi, and daughter Breezy had a fabulous time. Jennings Osborne came to the Studios until he passed away in 2011.
Over the years Disney kept adding more and more lights. The display is currently made up of over 5 million lights. Two million ties hold 10 miles of rope lighting and 30 miles of extension cords together. There are 130 angels and 43 hidden Mickeys in the display and 66 snow machines are used to create artificial snow on the streets of America. It takes 21,000 man-hours to install the display each year and it requires 800,000 watts of electricity. In recent years, the lights have all been converted to energy-efficient LED lights.
I love the show and my favorite section is the huge canopy of twinkly lights. Each time I visit, I remember the man who started it all. A generous man, a man who I am sure is smiling from above at his lights and who knows that they bring joy to the world no matter the religious affiliation of those who see them.
The show is included with theme park admission and runs through January 5, 2013. The lights go on around 6:00 p.m., accompanied by a short ceremonial flipping of a light switch. At times, guests are chosen to do the honors. This year, for the first time ever, “Glow with the Show” Ears are part of The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. The hats cost $25 and light up in sync with the show.
The 2013 Osborne Lights Song List
Jingle Bells by Barbra Streisand
Feliz Navidad by Jose Feliciano
A Mad Russian’s Christmas by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Parade of the Wooden Soldiers by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops
Christmas Is Starting Now by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas by the Plain White T’s
Winter Wonderland arranged by Dan Stamper (NEW in 2013)
Do you love the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights as much as I do? What’s your favorite part of the display? Share in comments below.
Liliane Opsomer is the co-author of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids,” a guidebook that provides detailed planning and touring tips for a family vacation. She is passionate about travel, Disney, and hobbits. Liliane also started recently her own blog.