Apr 04, 2023

Behind the scenes of Bellingrath Magic Christmas in Lights

by: Cherish Lombard

Posted: Dec 6, 2022 / 10:27 PM CST

Updated: Dec 7, 2022 / 09:35 AM CST

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — 3-million lights! That will put you in the Christmas spirit! There's something enchanting about seeing lights sparkling, but hanging them, not so much.

Imagine what it must take to make Bellingrath Gardens come alive with millions of lights during the holidays! One might think it takes hundreds of people to put "Magic Christmas in Lights" together, but most of the credit goes to four women.

"It's a year-round job. Our busy time of the year starts in the end of August," said Hayley Zirlott, Magic Christmas Lights Senior Assistant.

That's when the ladies start hanging Christmas lights around the gardens, getting a little help with a few of the larger scenes.

"We also have our maintenance crew that comes in and helps us with the heavy lifting, the muscle part of the job, which is going to be installation of the train set piece, the Swans, said Melissa Wells, Magic Christmas in Lights, Manager and Showrunner.

Wells said it takes her team of four about 6 weeks, just to get the lights out of storage.

"We then start going through all the pieces, fixing them," Wells told New 5's Cherish Lombard.

She said the "way" the lights are stored makes the process a little easier, and could also make it easier for you when you’re decorating your home.

Wells said, "There's no such thing as a no-tangle strand. So for us, the main thing is we will actually wrap them around our hands and create a small ball that our hand can fit into. We store them in Coca-Cola crates."

Most of us buy our Christmas decorations in stores. All of the displays you see at Bellingrath are designed and made on the grounds. And the placement of every piece of décor is perfectly planned.

"We actually have our pole trees here, so we have two groups of seven. What I do is actually step them, two to three steps in between each tree ring," said Wells.

The ladies on the team say one way you can brighten up your home during the holidays is by wrapping trees. For a small tree, you’ll need two strands of lights.

You’ll start with the male end of the plug at the bottom of the tree, then wrap the strand of lights as tightly as possible in an upward motion. When you get to the top of the tree, come back down in an X formation until you get to the bottom of the tree, then secure it with a zip tie.

Adding lights to shrubbery will also help your home sparkle.

"We will actually go in a zigzag position going up and down," said Zirlot. "And we use our cane pole. You can get any stick at home that's about this tall with a hook on it, and take your lights, and you go to the top of the bush, and then you bring it all that way down to the bottom, and hook it."

The Christmas in Lights team suggests using LED lights.

"We have now transitioned over to the LED," explained Wells. "We still have a little bit of incandescent that's in our shrubs and they are nightmares. If one lightbulb comes out or if something burns out, the whole strand goes out."

The type of light bulbs used for Magic Christmas in Lights may have changed through the years, but what hasn't changed, is the wonderment of it all, which so many of us have enjoyed since the now 28-year-old holiday tradition began.

You can see Magic Christmas in Lights nightly until Jan. 4, 2023. Every year, there's a new set design. This year, look for the first "all pink" display of lights at Bellingrath!

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