Griswold fans rejoice, the house on Legends Court will shine very bright once again this holiday season enabling you to have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas.
The popular holiday light display at the New Jersey home of Steve and Gina Harbaugh, that mimics the home in the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” will include the same cast of characters as years before, plus a few new ones, but with a pandemic twist.
“We’re definitely having it just because people are starving and yearning for something positive this year,” said Steve, the creative mastermind responsible for the authentic-like display. As early as mid-November, he said, people have been driving by his house looking for any signs of exterior illumination.
The Friday after Thanksgiving began the third and largest display for the Christmas-loving Harbaugh family.
The animatronic Uncle Eddie draining his RV’s septic tank with a beer in hand and Clark hanging onto the house for dear life after falling off his ladder while rigging up the lights will again welcome passersby.
Returning this year after making a debut last year are the 1984 LTD police car with its lights flashing and the 1989 Ford Taurus station wagon complete with a Christmas tree strapped to the roof.
Upping his Griswold game from last year, Steve added another Clark mannequin depicting the scene when he takes two extension cords and puts them together, finally getting the lights lit.
“He’s got that smile,” he said referring to Clark’s expression.
Steve said the same artist in California that made the latex cast head of Uncle Eddie will also make the Clark head with that joyous grin.
Another added feature will be a mannequin of Frank Shirley, Clark’s boss, who will be outfitted in pajamas and a red bow and placed in the RV, representing the scene when Uncle Eddie kidnaps him.
The Harbaughs’ display has continued to gain national attention so much that the original Clark, played by Chevy Chase, and Ellen, played by Beverly D’Angelo, sent him a video shout out this year.
Just like the last two years, the spectacle is to provide some joy during the upcoming holidays and to collect as many toys as possible. The Gloucester County Toys for Tots will benefit from the toy drive and a portion of the toys will go to Kelly’s Kidz, a nonprofit organization started by morning traffic anchor Bob Kelly, of Fox 29 in Philadelphia. The toys will be donated to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.
But unlike the last two years, this year will be a drive-by event to ensure the safety of everyone as the coronavirus continues to surge across the state.
“I seriously thought about not having it,” said Steve. Two seconds later, he said he thought otherwise, but only if it could be done in a safe environment.
A security fence will surround the property discouraging people from forming huge lines to snap a photo with their favorite character and there are plans for a conveyor belt to safely load the donated toys into the RV where they have always been placed.
Harbaugh said that he is taking the approach of “take what you can get, it’s not shut down, it’s not perfect” scenario. He hopes that people will understand and abide by the enhanced safety precautions and still come out and donate toys.
“If I didn’t have it there would be 9,000 less toys that are generated for Children’s Hospital and for Toys for Tots.”
The first year, less than 4,000 toys were donated but last year that total more than doubled to approximately 9,000. Steve hopes that fascinated onlookers will be just as generous this year and best the total of 2019.
Steve said that early donations are important this year because Toys for Tots is requiring a 10-day quarantine period for the toys and that anything dropped off after December 15 will not be handed out by Christmas.
“Toys for Tots wants us to put every toy in a plastic bag that they’re going to provide. That toy will sit in one of their containers at their place for 10 days before they bring it in and package it,” said Steve.
A video will be played outside on a large screen with the Harbaughs thanking everyone for their generosity and showing where all the toys go.
People have traveled as far as Ontario, Canada to see the display and drop off toys. Even the Wisconsin family, who Steve purchased the station wagon from, came out to spend the weekend with them, brought some toys and drove the old Taurus one more time — Christmas tree attached of course.
“That was my favorite story of last year,” Steve said.
Those stories are what touches the Harbaughs the most and how their display affects the families that stop by.
Gina said that she has seen people laugh and cry as they look over the different scenes of the movie played out in their front yard. Not uncommon are stories of families who watched the movie with their father, who has now passed, and the memories of those times come back in the form of tears.
“I didn’t really know that there was such a fan base out there for this, but it’s kind of nice that it brings so many people joy,” said Gina.
“I just wanted him to put some Christmas lights up,” she said, thinking back three years ago.
The Harbaughs know they won’t be able to mingle with the people this year like they have in the past and that will be the sad part. Working with the take what you can get mentality they still plan on greeting people from a safe distance, the front porch and lawn. Guest appearances from Uncle Lewis, Aunt Bethany, Uncle Eddie and the Shirley family are still in the plans to help make it feel like an old-fashioned family Christmas.
The display will shine on every night until January 1 or as Steve said with a smile, “every night until Murphy pulls the extension cord.”
The display is located at 503 Legends Court in Mickleton. Don’t forget to bring an unwrapped toy.