Over 10,000 lights synchronized with Christmas music create a unique holiday display in Markvue Manor. Al and Cindy Harff have been decorating their home for 12 years and donating all funds collected to charity. (Cami DiBattista photo special to Tube City Almanac)
One North Huntingdon Twp. family aims to make the season a little brighter for those in need in a very festive way.
The Harff family, who reside at 1907 Bernice Dr. in the Markvue Manor development of North Huntingdon, deck out their home with thousands of lights and holiday décor each year in an effort to raise funds for Jamie’s Dream Team.
The McKeesport-based non-profit organization, founded by Jamie Holmes in 2005, supports those suffering from serious illness, injury, disability or trauma.
“Jamie is such a wonderful person and works so hard to make dreams come true for local children and adults,” said Cindy Harff. “We are happy to support her organization and just thrilled with the success of the light display.”
This is the 12th year the family has decorated their home for the holidays in this manner. Christmas Eve is the busiest night for visitors.
“Every year we add or replace some new strands of lights and decorations,” Harff said. “We like to change it up a bit.”
With 2,000 lights on the roof and over 5,000 on the giant Christmas tree, Allen (Al) Harff estimates that there are currently over 10,000 lights on their property. Additionally, a holographic Santa waves from the window, icicles sparkle in the trees, and candy canes line the driveway.
“We always hear about how people look forward to seeing the display; it seems to have become a tradition for families to drive by and enjoy the sight,” Harff said.
It's not just the sights the community enjoys, but the sound. The lights are connected to a sound system and synchronized to around twenty pre-programmed Christmas songs. Observers are encouraged to tune to 88.7 on their FM radio to enjoy the unique show.
“My son Tim is the mastermind behind the whole thing,” Cindy said. “He hooks all the extensions up and tries to add a couple new songs each year.”
The addition of flame pods, which burst in time to the song "Reflections of Earth," has recently added some additional flare.
“Christmas Eve is our biggest night,” Harff said. “We’ll be setting off a few of the flame pods that evening as long as the weather is nice.”
It takes about three solid weeks to put up all the lights, Harff said, and the decorating is truly a family affair.
The idea to take their Christmas décor to the next level began when Tim, the youngest Harff son, decided he would like to decorate the family home to collect for a charity.
A 2005 Norwin graduate, Tim began collecting LED lights when he was in high school after becoming involved with lighting department of the school’s stage crew.
“He saved his own money and would buy strands at the end of every season when they went on sale,” Cindy recalled. “I finally asked what he was going to do with all these lights, and that’s when he came up with the idea to do the display and program the music.”
The family began to decorate and for the first couple of years raised funds for the Ronald McDonald House and the Circleville Volunteer Fire Department, of which several members of the family are members.
“It only amounted to a couple hundred dollars, but we had fun doing it,” Cindy said.
In 2010, at Tim Harff's suggestion, they began donating their collection to Jamie’s Dream Team. The mission of the organization, according to its website, is to ease the burden caused by serious illness, injury, disability, trauma and catastrophic events, and to help families celebrate individual differences by acknowledging dreams as possibilities.
“Jamie is just such a special person,” Cindy said. “We love her. She has the biggest heart and has become like family. She always wants to do for others.”
Jamie’s Dream Team is managed by a nine-member board of directors and all funds raised by or donated are used to further its charitable purpose.
All money collected during by the Harff family for their holiday display goes directly toward the organization.
“We don’t take any (money) out to pay for the electric or to buy lights or decorations,” Harff said. “That part is our contribution.”
The family, however, would happily accept donations of blue or clear LED lights after the holidays, as they said they are constantly replacing lights due to the ends becoming corroded.
Al and Cindy Harff (Cami DiBattista photo special to Tube City Almanac)
Harff said every year she receives a couple special notes in the collection box, thanking her for her efforts. Once she received the contents of a child’s piggy bank in a baggie.
“It’s just so heartwarming,” she said. “Everybody gives what they can to help.”
Over the years, the attraction has received attention from several local news stations and was even recognized nationally when Tim used the display to propose to wife, Missy.
“It was my hope from the beginning that it would take off like this so I’m really glad that it has,” Tim said.
“Sometimes it gets to be a bit much putting it all together, but then I see the reactions of the kids who are enjoying it. They’re singing and laughing and it makes it all worth it.”
Cami DiBattista is a freelance writer who covers municipal news from Duquesne, White Oak and other subjects for Tube City Almanac. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published December 24, 2018.