The elaborate Christmas light display outside Tim McGowan's home at 303 Second Ave. in Egg Harbor Township has, over the years, become a destination for holiday enthusiasts from the township and beyond - but this year, it almost didn't happen.
As the owner of McGowan Landscaping, McGowan typically enlists the aid of members of his crew in putting up the lights, but this year they were busy through early December dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Additionally, he lost 13 trees in the June derecho storm, which threw a curveball into his regular arrangement.
Despite the struggle, ultimately, McGowan couldn't resist.
"It's just one of those things where the closer it got, the more and more people would come ... and say, 'Are you doing the lights?' McGowan said. "That's what I do it for. Everybody comes out here, has a good time. They kind of motivated me to keep doing this each year."
McGowan spent a week and a half in early December - sometimes with crew members but often alone - working 18-hour days stringing tens of thousands of lights around his sizable property. On the evening of Dec. 14, he flipped the switch.
It's clear from a quarter-mile down the road why McGowan's display is among the most popular in the area. Strands of red, gold, blue and green wrap around his home and trees, packed tightly enough to outline the figures but loosely enough to not be too sharp a contrast against the evening sky. Animated figures, like a toy train or the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus, dot the landscape.
James "Fuzzy" Frisa, who lives across the street from McGowan, said that after seven years, he still looks forward to McGowan's display come each holiday season.
"I think it's beautiful," Frisa said. "I think it's one of the best arrays around town. It's just very enjoyable, the old-fashioned colored lights and stuff, and I look forward to it every year. Every year, I look forward to it. It's amazing."
McGowan first got bitten with the Christmas light bug when, as a kid living on Windsor Avenue in Egg Harbor Township, his neighbor's annual display was among the best in the township.
While maintaining the display is a labor of love for the landscaper, it's still a lot of work. Keeping the light array up and running will be a full-time job for McGowan until he starts taking the array down in early January. While the lights are only on from about 5 to 10 p.m. each night, McGowan constantly prowls the property looking for burnt bulbs or broken circuits.
McGowan's electric bill triples or quadruples in December, he said, and he's only half-joking when he says he's got his electrician on speed dial. He blew a transformer the first year he moved in and had to upgrade to 200-amp electric service last year after blowing the 150-amp box.
Still, for all its challenges, there's no satisfaction for McGowan like giving visitors a holiday escape through his handiwork.
"It's not one of those things where I do this for perks," McGowan said. "I do it for everybody else. They'll come out here, even if it's for five or 10 minutes, and forget about everything else, kind of just enjoy the lights for Christmas."
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