Technology has replaced -- and some might say improved -- the heart-warming spectacle of strings of twinkling Christmas lights strung along rooflines and window frames.
A small projector stuck into the ground and focused on the house gives a similar star-spangled look to houses and trees. Sold under various names, including the original Star Shower Laser Light, the products range from about $30 to as much as $90, and offer various combinations of color, design and movement.
The effect, which ranges from hundreds of multicolored twinkling lights to large seasonal images, such as snowflakes and snowmen, can be breathtaking.
Just ask the Krytus family of Norwood Avenue. Mom Jenny and daughters Olivia, 12, and Lucy, 9, went out one day while dad John did some outdoor decorating. When they arrived home, the girls spotted the twinkling lights accenting the trunk and boughs of the small maple in the front yard.
"They said, 'Oh, Mom, look!' " said Jenny Krytus, recalling her daughters' delight. "He sort of surprised us with it. It's a little treat every time we come home. They love it."
The Krytuses saw the projected lights on people's houses last year, when the innovation was first marketed by Telebrand, but, Jenny Krytus said, "We thought, that's cool, but I wouldn't aim it at my house. I love my house but it feels like, 'What are you illuminating unless you have a big holiday display?' "
The front yard maple tree, which Jenny Krytus said "mostly survived the October storm" of 2006, was the perfect choice to be laser decorated. Dotted with twinkling lights, it's a natural accent. Her husband, she said, "loves his tree, so that was his motivation for shining it in that direction."
Jenny Krytus also bought several large ornaments to decorate the tree, but John used them to form a bridge of ornaments over the sidewalk, where the neighborhood's numerous pedestrians and dog-walkers stroll.
In addition to brightening houses, the laser light systems have also flown off the shelves, said one local hardware store manager.
"I am sold out of them," said Mark Herd, electrical department manager at Ed Young's True Value Hardware on Main Street in Williamsville. "I had either four or five different styles and we sold out of them immediately."
Herd can be forgiven for not recalling exactly how many types of the laser projectors he sold. The last one was purchased about a month ago.
Projected laser lights are only the latest trend in Christmas lights, which have gone through many phases from the old glass-bulb displays outlining windows and doors to nets of lights thrown over shrubbery. Berry-shaped LED lights proved to attract wire-gnawing squirrels, and strings of both white and multicolored icicle lights remain popular. Some historic homes feature a classic candle in every window, while many neighborhoods have one or more over-the-top blinking displays, sometimes synchronized to music.
The first projector units made their sparkly debut last season, making house fronts look as if they were covered with hundreds of twinkling lights and baffling passers-by with the instant transformation from bare walls to intense coverage.
When the products became available this year, Herd said, he ordered them immediately, and when they came in, he set up one projector to shine lights onto the floor of the store. "They started selling immediately, because people recognized what they were," he said. The first shipment of 12 sold out in three days, so he re-ordered 36, which took just 10 days to sell.
"They do sell themselves," said Herd. "Obviously the television commercials do a great job, but what people like the most is if you've ever put lights on your bushes or around the outside of your house, it's difficult. If it's cold out, it makes it even harder. This allows you to decorate your whole house in less than 10 minutes. All you have to do is put the stake in the ground, aim it right and plug it in, and you're done. People are very busy, and what they like is the convenience of being able to decorate their whole house with one item."
According to a New York Times story about the popular lights, the first small laser projector was refined from a similar, more costly product that projected green lights onto the New Jersey home of A.J. Khubani, the founder and chief executive officer of Telebrands.
According to the Times, Khubani’s designers added red lights to the green ones, cut the price to $49.99 and introduced the Star Shower Laser Light in July 2015. This year the company sells the Star Shower Motion Light, which features oscillating lights. Several other companies have developed and now sell similar products.
Herd, of Ed Young's True Value, sees the appeal of the projected lasers lasting beyond the holidays, and even beyond winter.
"People are keeping them in their houses afterward," he said. "Rather then just packing them away, they put them in one room, turn off all the lights in the room and fill up the whole room with sparkle. We had some people buy them just for that purpose, not to put them outside but to put them in a room inside, to relax by starlight."