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A Big Island house famous for its Christmas light display shines in the darkness of the pandemic

13th Annual Punalights Christmas Lightshow in 2021 by the Oshiro family
Stanward Oshiro
The Annual Punalights Christmas Lightshow by the Oshiro family

For many people, the holidays mean lots of Christmas lights and music. On Hawaiʻi Island, one house famous for its synchronized music and light display did not let the pandemic darken its glow. In fact, the pandemic made it more important to keep the tradition going.

Stanward Oshiro is an electrical engineer by day. Any other time, he's probably working on his 23,000-pixel Christmas light display that requires about 300 hours of programming and setup.

The display made its debut on 18th Avenue in Hawaiian Paradise Park in 2008. With social media and word-of-mouth exposure, Oshiro says he doesn't even know how many people come through to experience it.

"Yeah, we're busy driving around and parking the cars. Because it's pitch dark out here. There's no street lighting or anything. So we individually park each car so they don't bang other cars or bang other people or whatnot," Oshiro said.

People from all over the island have made it a tradition, Oshiro says. Visitors tune to an FM station, 106.7, where a soundtrack provides a fully synchronized experience.

Lights run in loops around the yard, they blink and shimmer from the rooftop in icicles, and cascade around the garage. Oshiro explodes LEDs like fireworks over towers he made on either side of his house.

Oshiro designs and programs, his family and in-laws help mount the lights. In all, eight people plus assorted others make it happen for the whole community. Oshiro says neighbor Kit Carson is essential.

"Me and him, we do traffic control every night for the whole month of December," Oshiro told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

The Punalights show is free, but in a partnership, people have brought thousands of pounds of food and donated thousands of dollars to Hawaiʻi Food Basket.

Punalights 2020 - The Weeknd - "Blinding Lights"
Stanward Oshiro
Punalights 2020 - The Weeknd - "Blinding Lights"

"Last year we had a record turnout because I guess a lot of people were stuck in their homes for the bulk of the year. A lot of them were saying, 'Yeah we really wanted to get out and do something.'"

People can stay in their cars for the whole Punalights experience.

"They're amazed because I guess there are just so many lights. You can hear the kids saying 'Wow, look at that,' or the kids are crying because they don't want to leave," Oshiro said. "That all just makes it worth it. To hopefully get better responses from the community saying that, 'This year's show was a lot better than last year,' or, you know, that sort of thing. It's just a hobby that keeps growing. You're always striving for something better, better, better."

Punalights is in full swing now through Dec. 25, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. from Dec. 26 - 31 — in the beautiful, pitch-dark Keaʻau area. Click here for more information. Can't make it in person? Head over to Oshiro's YouTube for past light shows.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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