The best way to celebrate the coldest, darkest time of year is to build fun Raspberry Pi and Arduino projects. These projects will light up the gloomiest gloom, fill your days with fun and your heart with joy, and all without draining your pocketbook. You can control lights and music, build a retro gaming console, build a cool weather station, build a photo frame, or just learn the basics and fiddle around randomly.
MicroPython on Arduino Smart Holiday Lights
When you want a versatile lighting project that you can tailor in all kinds of way, such as size, shape, animations, and colors, try MicroPython Smart Holiday Lights. It’s an advanced project that is great for learning a whole lot of cool stuff, like MicroPython, LED strip lights, and ESP8266 devices. ESP8266 is a 32-bit microcontroller with an embedded TCP stack, and ESP8266 boards are usually very small. This makes them a bit challenging to work with, which is a perfect reason to treat yourself to a good-quality lighted magnifier LED lamp. The small size also makes them quite versatile for easy embedding in all manner of objects.
Arduino Blinky Lights for Beginners
If you need something more basic to get started, try An Arduino Project: How To Make Flashy Christmas Lights Ornaments. This uses an Arduino Uno (Figure 1), a breadboard, and a pile of LEDs and resistors. The article links to a UK vendor for the parts, but any Arduino supplier has what you need. Breadboards are the bee’s knees for fast testing and learning, no soldering necessary.
Adafruit.com is cram-full of great beginning tutorials; you might like Breadboards for Beginners.
Easy Controllable Light Strings for Arduino
5 Minute Christmas Neopixel Led Strip has minimal soldering, and gets right into the programming. (Remember, any soldered connections can also be made on a breadboard.) The xtmas_neopixel sketch is complete with 33 animations, which you can study and modify.
The parts links in are all for overseas vendors, but you can easily find them at any Arduino supplier.
Arduino Lights and Music
Christmas Lights to Music Using Arduino is a first-rate tutorial with loads of pictures and product links. Use it to control larger light projects, such as a great gob of lawn decorations. It is based on the Arduino Duemilanove, which has been superseded and improved by the Uno R3. The Uno R3 is a super-nice board with a reset button, USB interface chip, and a fuse.
This project uses a component you don’t often see in these projects, a solid-state relay board. SSRs are for projects that require a lot of high-speed switching, and they comes in many sizes, so you tailor it to your project.
It also uses an FM transmitter and landscape cables. When you successfully put all the pieces together you’ll have a flexible controller you can adapt for all kinds of scenarios.
Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi
Holiday projects aren’t limited to lights and music. How about some classic gaming? Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi builds a classic arcade game machine. It’s a fairly complicated project, but as always the Adafruit instructions are clear and complete, with extensive guidance on which hardware to use, such as game controllers, joysticks, and arcade buttons. Before you spend any money, you can download various emulators and test them first on your PC.
What’s the weather doing? You could look outside. Or you could build a Raspberry Weather station. This collects weather data over time and displays it in graphs on your web site. It’s a medium-complex project, but the tutorial is thorough and details all the steps, including how to set up a web site on WordPress.org to display your weather data.
Raspberry Pi Photo Frame
The Raspberry Pi Photo Frame is a good project for beginners. Your photos are stored on an SD card, and the screen is the Raspberry Pi 7″ touch screen. You could use a smaller screen and hang it on your Christmas tree.
How to Make a Raspberry Pi Media Panel is a more complex project that powers a full-sized screen and adds a music server.
Learn more about Linux through the free “Introduction to Linux” course from The Linux Foundation and edX.