Since arriving in the Austin area in 2000 our family has made a tradition around viewing the Christmas lights found in Central Texas. Each weekend we'd search out new light shows enjoying the lights, the music and joy of Christmas -- and also marveling at the time and effort people put into this hobby.
At one point my wife said... "you need a hobby!" It wasn't long after that declaration that I found myself researching what it takes to put together an animated Christmas light show. The first year was spent going to after-Christmas sales looking for bargains on lights, picking up any lights I could find. With an eclectic collection of lights we had our first show. The next year I purchased quality LEDs from China and I had my first Mega Tree and arches.
The controllers at first came from LOR (Lights-O-Rama) an established vendor in the space of animated lighting. With the controllers I started adding music, adding a radio transmitter, and started taking pictures and videos of the show.
Next came DIY (Do It Yourself) construction of controllers -- buying parts and soldering my own boards. At the same time I jumped into RGB (Red-Green-Blue) lights that allowed me to control each bulb. This added a LOT of complexity to my display. One string of 100 bulbs now had 300 channels to control with dimming and color mixing. But it was fun!!
Over the years we have added more lights, changed software, and moved to different DIY solutions. Each time it involved new things to learn, and more discussions with others in the hobby.
The DIY communities are a great part of the hobby. We have a Texas group that gets together at an "Academy" once a year, but talks about the hows and why all year long. We have a local group that gets together frequently to share techniques, bounce ideas, and help fix problems. There are a dozen groups in the internet community that focus on particular products, DIY solutions, and share ways to do more with less.
This hobby is a great place to relax and share with others travelling the same road... and its always open to new travelers.