JACKSON – A holiday tradition which has lit up a township neighborhood for nearly a decade is dazzling holiday revelers once again this year. The tradition includes raising money for a good cause, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
It would be impossible not to note that this holiday season will quite different due to the coronavirus pandemic but the holiday house of Michael and Carol Cook will be relatively the same and quite inviting.
Michael Cook and members of his family acknowledge that and expressed the need to make this year’s festive display at their 1 Carlson Court home even more special than ever. The decoration process began weeks before the weekend of Thanksgiving – in fact it is a yearlong planning process.
“Keeping in mind that people are weary with COVID we actually added a Zenmo account this year so people can actually donate without even rolling their window down. My wife and I will still be out there and we’ll be saying hi to people and giving out candy canes but I get it if they don’t want to roll down their window. I am a nurse and I deal with COVID all the time,” Cook said.
Zenmo is an app that is used to transfer money back and forth. The address for it is Cooks’ Christmas. Their Facebook page is Cooks Christmas NJ. “Every penny goes to the National MS Society,” Cook said.
Michael and Carol Cook have played host to the holiday house for the past nine years. “We are at more than 30,000 lights, four singing trees, a 20-foot spiral tree and a 1,008-bulb pixel matrix which we can do imaging with,” Michael Cook said.
“We get a lift every year and one of my sons helps me when I’m on the lift but for the most part it is my wife and I doing pretty much everything,” Michael Cook said.
“All the lights are synchronized to music. The show consists of seven songs and runs for approximately 20 minutes. Guests must turn their radio dial to 100.9 FM to hear the music with the show.
“We went live on November 28 at 6 p.m. and we will run through January 1. The show will run nightly from 6 -10 p.m. Sunday – Thursday and 6-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday,” Michael Cook said.
While the show is free the family accepts donations for MS. “This year there hasn’t been any major changes to the look of it. We started decorating a little early this year mostly to take advantage of the warmer weather. We started putting the lights up in the middle of October.”
When greeting people during the show Michael Cook often wears his favorite holiday hat which is a bright orange Santa cap which has the letters MS across the top. The cap was presented to him by representatives of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, an organization which has special significance for the family and where all donations made to the holiday house go. Orange is the color for the cause of curing MS.
“My stepson was diagnosed with juvenile MS at the age of 13. They say that between 5,000 and 11,000 kids have MS. It is rare that they are diagnosed that young. His first symptom was that he went blind in his left eye. He got the vision back after some treatments but he’s doing great,” Michael Cook said.
“The MS Society is the primary driver of research. That is why we picked them to donate to because we don’t want better treatments – which is nice – but we want a cure. They are researching that and coming closer and closer to it,” Michael Cook added.
He said previously that “just the idea that people are willing to donate money to a cause like that because we have a house with a Christmas display is really overwhelming.”
The Christmas couple noted that this concept truly brings the spirit of the holidays home. “We can’t tell how many people stop by and see the house,” Carol Cook said.
While the couple doesn’t have a traffic counter, in 2018, they handed out over 6,000 candy canes running up and down the road – and not everyone takes a candy cane.
Another commonly asked question of the Cooks is the cost of the electric from the display. Carol Cook said “it isn’t all that bad at all.”
The Cooks know that this year has been hard on everyone and that currently, the number of coronavirus cases are increasing. Thus, the need for a bright beacon of light for the holiday season is needed more than ever.
“I hope with all our lights we are providing people with some kind of an outlet this year to get out and celebrate the holidays and get a little cheer and enjoyment from it. I think this will be a big year for that,” Michael Cook said.