For six years, Ken and Rebecca-Ellen Woods have set up Christmas lights at their home in Fairbanks that anyone with an Internet connection can control, and this year the display is bigger than ever.
Curious visitors around the world can change the blinking displays in real time from the couple's website, christmasinfairbanks.com. Woods predicts they'll have the most site visits yet this year, topping the millions who visited a few years back.
"I didn't think it would get as big as it is," Woods said on Friday.
The lights started as entertainment for friends and family in 2010. Between word of mouth and media coverage, by 2013 6.5 million unique visits had been clocked on the site from all over the world, he said.
In 2014, with a newborn and new house, the couple had only four strands of lights and the site numbers dwindled. This year, though, they've upgraded their system. Visitors can control 11 sets of lights, from the garage door to the deck railing.
Last Wednesday, Woods sent an email to about 100 people announcing that the lights were back up. The first 11 days of December brought more than 1 million unique hits on their site, he said.
The couple can't see the lights from inside the house, something Woods is "very grateful for."
Their 1-year-old son loves the lights, though. "He will stand at the window and look at the lights and he gets very excited when they turn on and off," Woods said.
Woods, who works in information technology for the state, built the controllers himself. He strings up the lights, makes electrical connections and "it just takes off from there," he said.
For people wanting to donate to the project, Woods declines. Powering the LED lights doesn't cost much, he says, and "we do this for the fun!"
On Friday afternoon, lights blinked on and off as daylight dwindled. Woods said thousands of people will be on the site at a given time.
During Fairbanks' long winter, the sun rises late (at 10:45 a.m. on Friday) and sets just hours later (2:43 p.m. on Friday), giving visitors lots of time to see the lights under dark skies.
So when site visitors email, "It's too bright, I can't see the lights!" Woods' response is: "We don't complain about sunlight in Alaska. Try back later," he writes on the page's FAQ.