Holiday cheer comes in many forms, but for two Turlock residents, the best way they know how to display it is through brilliant exhibits painstakingly put together over the course of months — all for the love of Christmas.
Since 1990, Rick Harden has collected Christmas village pieces and now boasts a North Pole display that is eight by 14 feet and home to 126 lighted buildings. Harden began collecting the pieces after he noticed them on display in a Macy’s department store.
“I saw them set up in the Christmas section, and I kind of fell in love with the little villages,” said Harden, whose collection began with the purchase of three buildings that day. “I got a warm feeling about it.”
Each year, Harden adds to his growing selection through purchases or by way of his own creativity. For this year’s display, he constructed a zip line and ski lift for the village, fashioning miniature lift chairs, poles and lines.
Other than its size, the only change the village undergoes annually is how it’s displayed. What started out set up on a small coffee table is now placed on a table so large, Harden built it himself. The village is displayed in Harden’s garage, giving him more room to show off the village’s vast size.
“When I have more room, I can display more buildings,” said Harden.
Harden builds the village’s surrounding scenery himself, carving snowy hills and canyons from Styrofoam. This year’s scenery took around a month to complete. The most difficult part about constructing a North Pole village of this magnitude, said Harden, is simply deciding where to put it all, and how to do it.
“I’ll stand there and just stare at the Styrofoam for 30 minutes at a time, figuring out what I’m going to do,” said Harden. “Figuring out all of that takes a while.”
Once the village is up is when the real fun begins, Harden said. During the week, he sits in his driveway in the evening with the garage door open, inviting passers-by to admire the whimsical village he’s constructed. He often has popcorn popping and a fire pit burning until around 7 or 8 p.m. each night. One night, as many as 100 people stopped to take a look.
“My favorite part is seeing the enjoyment that people get looking at it,” said Harden. “That’s why I do it, so other people can experience it. You can’t help but be in the Christmas spirit when you see it.”
Across town, Loren Lopes and his family have noticed a number of cars parking outside of the home nightly to watch a musical light show which he constructs annually. Comprised of over 25,000 lights, the show is synchronized to upbeat Christmas music and flashes on and off to the beat.
Lopes has been setting up the light show at his current house, 977 S. Vincent Road, for eight years now, and was originally inspired by a childhood memory.
“When I was a kid, we had a cousin who used to have a big display and we would always go watch it,” said Lopes. “I decided to create my own, and it’s just gradually grown.”
Lopes started out with just 1,000 lights during the display’s first year, and the programming through which the lights are synchronized used to be controlled by a simple system that required little work. Now, Lopes’ army of lights must be programmed manually, thanks to a state-of-the-art system that was a bit trickier to get the hang of.
“It’s way more elaborate. You have to pick all of the timing of the music to coordinate with the lights that you want to have go on and off at certain times,” said Lopes. “I go based off just what I think it should look like, but it’s a lot of trial and error.”
The display consists of plenty of lights and two 20-feet tall “mega trees,” as Lopes described them. One of the trees features 5,000 lights, and the other is an LED smart pixel strip tree which is able to play moving images and designs.
The light show plays from 5 to 11 p.m. The music is played through speakers in the yard until about 9 p.m., and after that time spectators can enjoy the show by tuning into 104.5 FM on the radio.
“It makes the Christmas season kind of special,” said Lopes. “The kids seems to really enjoy it and appreciate it, and I know when I was a kid I did.”
In addition to checking out Lopes’ light show, Turlockers can bundle up and stroll down Christmas Tree Lane, which is currently in full effect. Christmas Tree Lane can be found off of either Berkeley Avenue or Tuolumne Road, with Michael Way and Wellerman Way as its entrances, respectively. This year’s lane features the likes of Dr. Seuss’s Whoville, as well as houses guarded by Storm Troopers and Darth Vader.Thanks to members of Turlock Fire Incorporated, the City of Turlock is once again bringing Santa Claus to Turlock’s streets. Until Dec. 20, Santa will be making his way up and down the neighborhoods of Turlock on his fire truck to wish residents a Merry Christmas. To find out when Santa will visit your home, visit www.cityofturlock.org/firedepartment/aboutus/santatruck and type in your address. Or, call 669-2121 to hear Santa’s schedule.