Jessica Derr knew she loved the house, but she didn’t know about the surprise that was coming. She and her husband, Evan Derr, had just finished touring the house and she had decided she wanted it to be her family’s new home. “Then we walked to the barn,” said Jessica. “They opened the doors and said, ‘Here is the fleet!’”
Inside were more than 80 light-up reindeer.
The Derrs were buying “The Reindeer House.”
Known throughout northern Warren County, the home on Harlan Road has become a landmark during the holiday season. And the previous homeowners wanted to make sure it stayed that way: Keeping the reindeer tradition was a requirement for anyone buying the house.
The Derrs, with their three children, moved into the home in October of 2019. It didn’t take long for them to learn what they had gotten into.
“My husband and I set it up the first year, and it took us from eight o’clock in the morning until it got dark,” she said.
The previous homeowner came and showed them how to set up the display, including the best locations for the reindeer and all the wiring.
This year, they had hot chocolate, blared some Christmas music, and had some close friends come help. “The boys, there were six or eight of them under the age of 10, and they had zip ties, and extra strands of light. They were testing all the reindeer. It was almost like their own little medic scene, testing all the reindeer, making sure that all their legs and heads were connected. So the kids thought that was pretty cool.”
To kick off the holiday season, they hosted a “Derr Deer Day” for the neighborhood. People came over and parked in the driveway to enjoy the display, while the Derrs handed out hot chocolate and candy canes. They also heard touching stories from families who come every year to see the reindeer.
“One family stopped by for some hot chocolate,” said Jessica, “and told us the story from a previous year. Their mother had Alzheimer’s and was telling her family about the deer house, so they got in the car and drove down our road. When they eventually found our house, she was so excited that it actually existed, and it wasn’t her memory playing tricks on her. They said she passed away earlier this year, so it was a sweet memory for them to come and see the deer.”
For Roz Mitakides, seeing the reindeer display has been a family tradition since it started about two decades ago. She lives nearby, but brings people from far and wide to see the display. “We’ve had friends from Scotland, Canada and all over the country come for visits, and that is the first place we take them,” she said. “We started the ritual of driving around to see Christmas lights with hot cocoa and singing Christmas with our kids, and continued it with our grandchildren — who are now teenagers. It’s such a great memory for us.”
And Mitakides continues to spread the cheer. “Last year,” she said, “we had a family friend from Wisconsin visit. We took a video of her dancing with the reindeer, and it blew up on her Facebook page!”
For the Derr family, it took some time to adjust to the crowds. Harlan is a road without shoulders, and no on-street parking. So drivers who decide they want to stop choose their only option. “Cars actually pull into our driveway, which kind of weirded us out at first, but they think it’s a turnaround. Last year, we were like, ‘Who’s at our house?’ This year we know to expect people, and they will get out and walk in our yard, and take pictures,” said Jessica. “I love Christmas, but I love that people love to come see this, and that it brightens their spirits during this crazy time.”
Several people have told her the display is part of a needed boost of Christmas cheer this year, which mirrors a trend seen across the country. Holiday decoration sales are up, and the rush for Christmas trees came early. Nearby Grandma’s Gardens had their usual stock of 500 Christmas trees this year, but they sold out by the first weekend in December — much earlier than a normal year. The Dor-Wood Optimists Club in Kettering had 700 trees, selling the last one in the afternoon of the first Saturday in December.
The Derr family never expected to have a home with this kind of large outdoor Christmas display. “Our previous house, we put a string of lights outside and decorated inside, and that was it. Every single room in the house is decorated, the kids have their own trees. But we weren’t the outside people. Now we are the inside and outside people!”
The kids are completely on board with the crowds, the holiday cheer, and the 80 reindeer. “Our little girl has given them names, and goes out and talks to them, her pets,” Jessica said.
And the response from the community has been heartwarming. “We got cards in the mail from people saying, ‘Thank you, we know you’re new, thank you for continuing the tradition. We love it, we do this every year.’”
While the reindeer, ornaments and other decorations came with the house, there is one thing the Derr family added: a manger, built by Jessica’s father. It’s one way the Derr family is adding a touch of their own tradition to the beloved “Reindeer House” on Harlan Road.
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