Beach Brightener

McDonald’s Holiday Lights at the Beach

Each year around this time, families bundle up in winter coats and scarves, load their kids in the car and head to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront to embark on an activity that would be completely illegal during any other time of the year: driving their cars on the boardwalk. Of course they have a good reason; they’re giddy with the anticipation of seeing the hundreds of thousands of lights at McDonald’s Holiday Lights at the Beach.

As excited as the families are over gazing at the colorful displays along the boardwalk, there’s one man who is perhaps more thrilled. His name is Andy Vakos, and he’s the creator of many of these tremendous light formations.

During his high school days when all his friends were out surfing, Vakos was learning how to weld. “I just liked working with metal,” he says. This hobby stuck with him for years, and after 1995, when the city produced its first Holiday Lights at the Beach, Vakos stared up at a light display and said, “You know what? I could make one of those.” So he did.

Since then, he’s created nine displays, along with helping to repair and revamp other displays throughout the years. Vakos starts working on a display for the holiday season three to four months ahead. However, since his full-time job as general manager of the Oceanfront Inn requires a great amount of time and dedication, he often doesn’t begin working on the light displays until 8 p.m., usually staying up until 2 a.m. Sleep? “It’s overrated,” he says with a laugh.

To create a display, Vakos first draws a design on graph paper to scale it. This year, the first step is already taken care of because Beach Events held an art contest where students from local high schools could submit drawings, and the two designs that were chosen will have their drawings turned into a light display.

Next he cuts the steel, bends it piece by piece and welds it together. Once the display part is finished he creates the frame and sends it all off to be painted and powder coated to protect the design from outdoor elements. Finally, he strings the lights, which he says is the most tedious part.

On a recent display, Vakos got some help from his family screwing in the hundreds of light bulbs. “I had my kids, my wife and my inlaws helping me put the bulbs in because there’s so many, but when it lit up—and it worked—it was the best thing in the world.”