Christmas lights up her spirit

LaHarpe's Susan Knavel admits she's crazy about Christmas. You'll find dozens of magical creatures like reindeer and unicorns cavorting on her front lawn.

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December 11, 2020 - 3:40 PM

Ask Susan Knavel what sort of Christmas light display she’d create if she had unlimited resources, and her eyes light up like 1,000 LED bulbs.

“Have you seen that show, ‘The Great Christmas Lights Fight?’ I’d have acres and acres out in the country, with a drive-through display. I’d have to learn how to do all those computerized things like set it to music. I’d do it all year. It would be a career. That would be a dream come true.”

Susan Knavel

For now, though, Knavel will have to stick with her family’s massive Christmas light display at 905 S. Harrison St. in LaHarpe.

It may not be “acres and acres,” but there’s plenty of room there for more than 50 frolicking lighted reindeer. Sparkling icicles and disco balls hang from the large tree in the front yard. All the lights are bright white.

To the south, you’ll find a bit more color. A giant inflatable reindeer is surrounded by Christmas trees with colorful bulbs. Hidden in the back is a blue and turquoise peacock.

On the north side, is a princess paradise. Disney princesses beckon the eye toward twinking castles with a rainbow of lights on the ground. Unicorns cavort, rearing up with their front legs. Three unicorns surround a tinsel tree, as the LED lights rotate through a range of colors. 

She wanted to put up a giant neon unicorn but her husband wouldn’t allow it this year. Too much, he said.

Knavel plans to add a dragon. But not the scary kind. A happy dragon. He’ll wear a Santa hat. 

If she had more space in her yard, she’d add a Star Wars section.

A horse and carriage lend a fairy tale touch. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
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She looks across the street to a large vacant lot.

“I’ve thought about what I could do there, but I’ve never gotten the nerve to ask the owners.”

Every year the Knavel display grows. 

She’s trying to convince her husband to add a new electric pole they can dedicate to the light display. (For those who are wondering, the lights add about $100 a year to their utility bill, but Knavel expects a recent conversion to all-LED bulbs will reduce the cost.)

She’d also like to buy a bucket truck or some sort of lift they can use to hang lights up high.

“I don’t need a display that can be seen from space,” Knavel admits, still dreaming of the ultimate display.

You can, however, see the Knavel’s display from several blocks away. 

The family often wins LaHarpe’s annual Christmas decorating contest, which she sheepishly acknowledges.

“Not very many people go all out around here the way we do. I just do it for myself. I’d still do it if no one saw.”

Susan Knavel added a princess paradise with unicorns for her granddaughter, Capri. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
Susan Knavel loves her reindeer. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
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The display began about 15 years ago, for no particular reason. It started simply enough, with lights hung on the house and a few decorations in the yard. They’ve added to it every year.

“I just love this time of year. Everybody has their thing, and Christmas has always been my thing. And I love reindeer.”

Knavel designs the plans. For example, this year she arranged her reindeer in families, with groups of two large reindeer and one or two smaller ones as their children. 

Her husband, Don, does the hard work of putting it all together every year. 

Christmas isn’t so much his thing.

“He’s a saint. He just does it to make me happy. That’s the kind of guy he is,” his wife said.

He even sacrificed the top of his garage for storing all of the Christmas stuff. 

The rest of the family pitches in to help, too, including their son, daughter and son-in-law. 

The princess section was added for granddaughter Capri. Next year, Knavel will change it to ballerinas. 

“Yes, I’m already planning next year.”

The display attracts more and more attention every year, as Knavel notices an uptick in cars driving past the house. 

She believes the display is even more important this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many traditional community events have been canceled for fear of spreading the disease, so drive-by displays are an easy way to celebrate and share the season with others. 

THOSE WHO have seen Knavel’s display in the past might notice several changes this year.

Like the disco balls in the tree.

In past years, she hung thousands of disco balls in the tree and positioned a spotlight so they sparkled and reflected light as they twirled. 

But that proved a bit much for the old tree’s aging branches, so she replaced them with electronic icicles. 

The reindeer got an upgrade this year, too.

She replaced the old wire reindeer, with their ancient strings of classic bulbs, for bright new LED versions. 

But after spending all those years together, Knavel had a hard time saying goodbye to those 50 old reindeer. 

“I couldn’t just take them to the dump,” so she gave them away. Many of them went to a Moran resident who has a large display of his own. 

“It really did make me sad,” Knavel said. “I miss them. I really do. I’m glad they found a good home.”

She’s also issued a directive to her husband. Should something happen to her, he must continue to put up the reindeer display every year at Christmas. Even if he remarries.

“I told him, ‘you better put those dang reindeer up. I don’t care if your new wife doesn’t like it, those reindeer are going up.’”

She laughs and shakes her head.

“I know I get a little Christmas crazy. I don’t care if everybody thinks I’m nuts. It just makes me feel good inside, the whole season. It’s the spirit of Christmas.”

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