ABSECON — According to Connie Havens, the tiny computer chip that syncs music to the flashing green Christmas trees, multicolored candy canes and the rest of the approximately 200,000 lights that once stretched across her lawn on Sooy Lane wouldn’t work at any other home.
“You couldn’t just take that chip and put it with another house,” she said. “This is really coordinated out. You can’t just put everything out and plug everything in.”
For 12 years, Havens and Charlie Auchter have transformed their home into a holiday extravaganza that draws more than 5,000 people throughout the month and adds about $500 to their electric bill.
However, the pair announced this year they’ve chosen to press pause on their musical light show.
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Auchter, 48, runs a full-time land-clearing business in Galloway Township and — coupled with the wet weather in November — had difficulty finding the time to construct the full spectacle this year.
It typically takes Auchter and four paid workers, who work eight hours a day, about six days to set up the display, said Havens, 58.
This marks the second time in 12 years Havens and Auchter have taken a break from their display.
They posted the news on Thanksgiving night to the light show’s Facebook page, which has more than 7,000 followers.
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Havens, who also owns a hair salon in Absecon, typically decorates the interior of their home with multiple Christmas trees to match its elaborate exterior, but said even that has been downsized.
She described taking a break this year as a “love-hate” situation — while it doesn’t feel like Christmas without the lights, she does feel some relief.
In the past, weather permitting, the show has run from 6 to 10 p.m. every night from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1.
Normally for the entire month of December, she said that — besides maybe running out to grab takeout from a nearby Italian restaurant — she and Auchter are tied to the house.
“You have to be there when something that elaborate is going on. You have to be there because anything can go wrong,” she said.
Havens remembered one instance when water ran down a wire into their basement, which houses what she calls “the brain” of the show: a computer box where all of the countless wires meet.
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An onlooker saw the lights had gone out of sync with the music, and Auchter was able to respond and fix the problem.
Havens believed it could have caused the show to “go crazy” or started a fire.
“Thank God he was there for that. I was at work,” she said.
The couple also had to cancel their annual fundraising efforts, which benefit the Greater Atlantic Cancer Fund, but Havens said she and Auchter will continue to donate to the fund privately.
Neighbor Anthony Gerrish, who runs his own expansive light display around the corner, known as Yard’s family light show, has scheduled his character events in the past to coordinate with the Sooy Lane light show’s Santa Nights.
“I was a little upset that she wasn’t doing it, but I understand because it’s a lot of work,” he said.
“I’ll get a bunch of family and friends together, and we’ll do a big setup day where everyone just puts everything where it’s been assigned, but with hers it’s a lot more complicated because of all the wiring that goes into it to make sure that everything has the right cue. It’s so intense.”
Gerrish said Havens continues to support his light show.
Havens and Auchter even have plans to use their extra time to enjoy all the other light displays this year.
“When it’s like a community, everyone is happy,” Gerrish said.
Laura Dagostino said that for more than six years, she and her family have traveled from their home in Upper Deerfield Township, Cumberland County, to Absecon to see the light show.
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They have turned the hourlong drive into a family tradition, stopping along the way to pick up hot cocoa and taking their annual family selfie under the blue archway lights of the driveway. But this year, Dagostino said they are sad they have to search for a new location.
“We hope the family knows just how much it meant to us, the memories we have made, but (we) understand life circumstances sometimes cause ripples that we didn’t expect,” Dagostino said.
Although there’s less to see on Sooy Lane this year, Havens said their future is still bright.
They have every intention of returning next year, and Havens expects the display will increase to more than 400,000 lights when they return.
“It’s just trying to make it new and exciting every year,” Havens said.