I install holiday lights at large events and in homes of people

  • After being suggested by a friend, Doran Dalpra installed holiday lights for his first time in 2018.
  • He quit his IT job in order to work full-time at the New England Holiday Light Co. by 2020.
  • Its tasks range from lighting up a small house to installing 200,000 lights in a matter of weeks.

This essay is based upon a conversation that Doran Dal Pra had with Doran, who co-owns The New England Holiday Light Co. Hooksett, New Hampshire. It has been edited for clarity and length.

My journey as a professional holiday light installer began with Jeff Paquin who was my best friend.

While I was still working as an IT professional, Jeff and me completed our first installations in October 2018. We also installed for a few close friends and aunts, uncles, and cousins who were kind enough to take care of us.

The first year, we did 20 jobs and the second, we did 80. In 2020, I quit my job and dedicated my time to building the business.

This year, we’ll log over 300 holiday-themed jobs between September and December, in addition to our year-round wedding, event, and landscape-lighting projects — relying only on social-media marketing and word of mouth.

I quickly realized that we were touching on something special for our clients.

It’s not just lighting because what we’re creating is tapping into nostalgia — whether through tradition, culture, or the client’s memories.

I arrive at the warehouse by 7 a.m. on holidays to meet the crew. ServiceM8 is a scheduling app that everyone has on their phones. It allows them to see their daily job assignments and connect with their crew leader. They can also get their boxes and tools together and load trucks.

I break the 12 staffers into four or five crews. Each team can install anywhere from $4,000 to $8,000 per day and travel up to 100 miles. Although I try to avoid 16-hour work days, it can be difficult to avoid a storm delay. The holiday lights have to go up — snow or no snow.

Every bulb is pre-inspected and prepared by a team in the warehouse. Once we get on the jobsite, it’s simple to grab the bins from the truck

We review the design plans and make sure to follow safety protocols to avoid ladder problems, breaking lights, sunburn or dehydration. Because we are working outdoors with ladders and tools in all weather conditions, our risk of injury is the same as a landscaper.

Most jobs — residential and commercial — include roofline lights, so the ladder is one of my most important tools, on top of all the wire cutters, pliers, drills, metal cabling, extension cords, timers, and zip ties. The prep team inserts the bulbs into sockets in advance so that we can cut the socket wire to match the design plan.

A man standing on a step ladder next to a tree covered in lights

Dal Pra installing lights.

The New England Holiday Lighting Company

It’s amazing to clip all the lights in place.

For comparison, large commercial projects — such as walk-through or drive-thru light exhibitions — combine specialty lighting like animation, spritzers, twinkling snowflakes, oversize present boxes, wreaths, glowing garland, up lights, and wash lights.

There could be hundreds, if not thousands, of lights between trees, shrubs or columns, railings or rooflines, and even 3D objects. It’s still the same trimming of bulbs and wrapping of miniature lights, but it’s a tedious task so we might consider staying at an Airbnb.

When building a roofline, it is about positioning the ladders in the most secure and efficient spots to clip the lights.

To attach the lights to the shingles or gutters, we use special clips. We try to minimize permanent equipment like anchors and tacks on a home, but we sometimes need small racks to secure an extension cable to a corner of a house, or zip-tie it in a way that prevents it from moving.

Shrubs are generally easier and take less time.

The most difficult aspect of lighting shrubs is making sure that the lights are evenly distributed. The exception to this rule is when we wrap mini lights in spiral-wrapping around the trunks or limbs. It can be difficult to create symmetry because the spaces between the limbs are not uniform. These situations can be more challenging than creating a roofline.

We are not building rockets, but we hang holiday lights. This is something that almost every homeowner can do. If you have taken the time to wrap it correctly or installed a roofline so that each bulb is perfectly positioned, there’s almost nothing better.

What makes what we do different is taking things that final 10% — wrapping that one last branch, making sure lines are neat and even, fastening extension cords so they’re out of the way, making sure the jobsite is clean. Details are what make or break a job.

It’s more than just a matter of displaying the sparkle and glow.

There are $250,000 installation with almost 200,000 lights and a 2-week timeline, such as the one at the Shelburne MuseumBut, the smaller jobs are equally important.

Photo of trees in a park lit up, alongside artificial light displays

Dal Pra’s company installed the “Winter Lights” display at the Shelburne Museum on 45 acres in Vermont.

The New England Holiday Lighting Company

This home for older adults is known for its bright holiday lights. It’s a tradition that residents love and often come out to talk to us while we work. The residents then gather around 4 p.m. The lights go on simultaneously, and everyone cheers.

I am grateful for the people who spend up to $5,000 to get their homes lit. It’s a lot of money to light up a house that you will only be able to keep up for a few weeks. There’s magic around holidays.

This is the one job I will never forget

We were hired by a couple to wrap the tree in front of their home. It was too late. I was exhausted and wanted to go home.

The front door opens and their daughter, who has Down Syndrome, races out of the home. She was so excited seeing the magic of the lights. The dad also spoke out, sharing that he had FaceTimed his family in Brazil to show the display.

He also shared the unexpected inspiration for lighting up their big evergreen — their older neighbor.

Their neighbor is a woman in her 80s. Her bedroom looked straight at the tree from her windows. As she looked on, I saw her petite frame as I looked over.

It was like, “OK. I’m going to not feel sorry for myself anymore.”

Contrary to all that joy, my black eye is a contrast

A bearded man looks at the camera with a bruise beneath his left eye

Dal Pra was struck in the eye with a black object during an installation.

The New England Holiday Lighting Company

I was working on a ladder, pulling an extension cord through some trees when it caught me. I gave it a good yank and it came whipping upwards and hit me in my face.

My instant reaction was, “Oh, my God, I just blinded myself,” and it was a struggle to get my wits about me — and not fall off the ladder.

Although the bruise won’t completely heal before Christmas, I’m grateful that I get to be a part of people’s holidays.

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