WOOSTER, Ohio — For over 25 years, the Hershey family has gone all out, decking their farm in lights and Christmas-themed displays. But how long does it take to put up an elaborate Christmas display for the neighborhood to enjoy?
“Days…weeks…months…,” said Ted Hershey, of FHJ Farms in Wooster, Ohio. But it’s all worth when the farm is all aglow. The Hershey family has been decorating their Wayne County farm since moving there in the 1990s.
“There was one year we decided not to do a display,” said Anita Hershey. “That was the year milk prices were in the tank.” The farm was so dark and quiet that year, “we decided we wouldn’t ever do that again,” she said.
Ted and Anita raised four children — Trent, Kerby, Jared and Tessa — on the 135-acre farm. While they no longer milk cows, they continue to raise around 30 head of Jersey heifers, mostly for show at the Wayne County Fair, and grain farm.
Setting up the lights
After harvest wraps up for the year, it’s time for the Hersheys to prepare for their holiday farm display. “We don’t like to dig anything out until the crops are off and the leaves fall, so we can get the yard cleaned up,” said Anita. “We start thinking about it the first of November and start setting up around Thanksgiving,” she said.
And then it’s all hands on deck, as the whole family spends the next few weeks setting up displays, hanging lights, tweaking the mechanicals and figuring out the best ways to run the electrical cords without blowing breakers. “We spend the first few days tweaking, driving through the display every night, checking lights and displays,” she said.
“This time of year, we all have electrical tape and extra light bulbs in our pockets,” said Tessa Hershey. “I usually put on my Carhartt for the first time and find a bulb or two in my pocket,” she said.
There are over 30 different displays this year, each with its own Christmas theme. Driving up the farm lane, cutouts of Hershey Kisses read: “Merry Christmas, from the Hersheys.” “That idea just came to me one year,” said Anita, who couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of it sooner.
A few years ago, the family decided their display needed a little more life, so they began experimenting with motorized displays. They built a kiddie land, complete with a working carousel, Ferris wheel and teeter-totter. The carousel itself took around 160 hours to complete.
Still in the works, and hopefully on display before the end of the year, the Hersheys are working on a mechanical slide. Fashioned from the conveyor of an old hay elevator, as the belt moves, wooden cutouts look like they are sliding down the slide. The conveyor needed a little more TLC than Ted and son Kerby had anticipated, but that’s why the two of them are in charge of the mechanics, explained Anita.
Another new display this year is a scene from Frosty the Snowman, where Frosty carries Karen to the greenhouse to get warm. “We had a small greenhouse already here, so we painted a backdrop to put inside,” said Anita. She said the detail in the painting took them hours to get right and the Frosty cutout was made by using a projector and tracing the pattern onto wood.
In fact, most of their displays are created from homemade patterns and wood. “Ninety percent of the displays are handmade,” said Anita, noting there were a few items donated to the family from people no longer doing displays of their own and family members no longer needing some of their yard props. But the painting and creating is all part of the fun for Anita, her daughter, Tessa, and daughter-in-law, Andi.
A scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas, where Charlie Brown visits Lucy at her “Psychiatric Help” booth, was also added this year. “We were looking at the booth we created for kiddie land and thought, ‘hey that kind of looks like Lucy’s booth from Charlie Brown,’” said Jared Hershey, who heads up the music and computer animation displays. The display is complete with the famous Charlie Brown tree, drooping under the weight of one ornament on its branch.
Don’t forget Santa
No Christmas display would be complete without Santa, and while the Hersheys have a few featured cutouts of Santa, new this year is a life-like animation of the man himself. Jared created this animation by using a projector he had bought a couple years ago and projecting a video up onto a frosted shower curtain. “It looks like he is really walking back and forth in the window,” he said.
Everyone in the family has found a niche, coming together to bring the display to life each year, and everyone has ideas on what they want to add next year. “I want an arch over the driveway, but there’s some argument over whether it’s just an arch or a tunnel,” Anita said.
The lights will continue to run every night at the Hershey family farm until Jan. 1. “It’s kind of depressing in January when we shut off the lights and it all comes down. It’s just dark,” said Tessa.
But the Hershey family looks forward to putting the display together each year. “We do it because we enjoy it and the people like it,” said Anita. “And we do it because it’s something we can all do together.”