ASHLAND -- Karen and Greg Cook are asking Santa Claus to take the pandemic away.
Using thousands of Christmas lights, the Ashland couple wrote "Santa take COVID away" on their barn roof -- where the jolly old elf cannot miss it.
The message is the highlight of the Cook family's annual drive-thru Christmas display at 1049 Township Road 1806 in Ashland, which also includes lighted reindeer, snowmen and more. A sign at the end of the driveway invites those passing by to pull into the driveway for a closer view of the lights.
The Cooks have decorated their property for more than three decades. They began when their oldest son was a baby, and their second son wasn't born yet. Now, both are grown with children of their own.
"We moved out here, and we thought let's put up a few lights," Karen said. "And well, every year, the day after Christmas we'd go and get lights half-priced."
Their display grew year after year, but the rooftop message has always been a key component. The Cooks wrote messages like, "Santa stop here," "Reindeer stables," "Let it Snow," and "Merry Christmas." In 2000, they wrote "Happy Y2K."
"We've always had a saying for the roof, but now, it's getting harder to come up with one," Greg said. "We go with whoever comes up with a good idea. We ask different people all the time."
Once, Karen asked students at Hillsdale Elementary School to submit ideas. The winning message was displayed that December, and the contest inspired messages for years to come.
But this year as they prepared for the holidays, the Cooks knew COVID-19 was on everyone's mind.
"We thought, we've got to have something lighthearted, but with 2020, we wanted to mention COVID," Karen said.
They considered writing "Santa take the virus away" because O's are the hardest letter to put on the roof, but they settled on "Santa take COVID away." It was shorter, relatable and only included one 'O.'
The Cooks begin setting up their display in the fall and continue into December until it's complete. The letters on the rooftop are posted with Duck Tape.
"If Duck Tape ever went out of business, I'd be out of business," Greg said.
One December night, as the Cooks were hanging lights from in a tree, multiple cars drove through their display. Children waved out the windows and thanked Greg and Karen for their efforts.
"We got one lady who lives not too far away from us. She always sends us a Christmas card, and she puts on there how she enjoys the lights," Greg said.
Karen mentioned neighbors who drive through the display multiple times per year.
Among those who frequently visit the display is Karen DeSanto-Kellogg's family.
"My kids ask every time we drive by at night to go see the lights at the Cook's house," she said in an early December interview. "Last night was the first night we noticed them on this year.
"We drove through windows down, oohing and ahhing."
When she has guests in for the holidays, visiting the Cook's display is a priority.
Karen Cook noted that an Elf on the Shelf is hidden within the display and moved occasionally. She encouraged families to look for it when visiting the display.
Karen is a hairdresser and playground aid at Hillsdale School District. Greg is retired from the Ohio Department of Transportation.
"There's no donation boxes. I've never taken any money on it. I don't want any money," Greg said. "It’s my way of saying thanks to everybody that helps me."