Sharing the holiday spirit inspires these Long Islanders - Newsday

2023-01-03 13:15:27 By : Mr. David zhao

The Long Islanders behind 12 of the nearly 100 displays listed in Newsday's 2022 LI Life Holiday Lights edition talk about their inspiration, message and the spirit of giving. See a list of all the homes featured this year here.

The holiday decorations at the Spagnuolo family's home at 33 Jamaica Ave. in Plainview. Credit: Howard Simmons Real Doll Mini

Sharing the holiday spirit inspires these Long Islanders - Newsday

Family: Daniel and Dana Spagnuolo and Daniel's parents, Robert and Carol Spagnuolo

Lights on: 4:15 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and 4:15 to 11 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday

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How long have you been creating a display? “Practically all of my life,” said Daniel, 35, who lives with his wife and parents in the house he grew up in. He said that displaying elaborate handmade Christmas decorations is a longtime family tradition.

What’s your inspiration? Daniel said his family “just loves Christmas and the decorations, and we love seeing the reactions from people to some of the unique decorations we have. We have kids in the neighborhood who walk by every day to check it out.”

What’s your holiday message? “Before the pandemic, people made a tradition of seeing our decorations,” Daniel said. “Now that the pandemic is easing, we’re happy they are coming back to continue the tradition with us.”

Making light work: Daniel, his wife, his parents and even some friends spend 30 hours putting up the decorations in a project spread over three weeks beginning right after Halloween. The main attraction is a 10-foot-tall fiberglass Frosty the Snowman figure that was part of the Santa’s workshop float in 1960s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades. Daniel said his family “adopted” Frosty in 2013 from another Long Island family. (Read the story at “Frosty is a heavy guy, so it takes a couple of us to set him up,” Daniel said. Another highlight is an 18-piece Nativity set featuring three-quarter life-size figures hand cut from plywood and painted more than two decades ago by Robert. There are also small Olaf snowman and Santa Claus statues on the stoop and a vignette of penguins skating on a pond near Frosty.

Bright idea: Last year saw the debut of a painted wooden cutout of the Sam the Snowman character voiced by Burl Ives in the 1964 children’s animated classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” “My dad and I worked on that cutout together,” Daniel said.

Spirit of giving: With Frosty as the big draw — visitors are invited to take a photo with him — the Spagnuolos have raised more than $15,000 during the past 10 years for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Daniel may also make an appearance, dressed up as Santa, to hand out candy canes.

The Salzmann family's Christmas light display in Calverton. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Family: Karen and Charlie Salzman

Lights on: 5 to 10 p.m. daily

How long have you been creating a display? 10 years

What’s your inspiration? Charlie said he’s keeping a family Christmas tradition begun by his late father, whose display was featured on “The Martha Stewart Show.”

What’s your holiday message? “Christmas was always the favorite holiday for both of us,” Karen said. “We’re celebrating bringing the family together again and making it a memorable holiday.”

Making light work: It takes from 10 to 12 days over five or six weekends for Charlie and Karen to complete their display, which features inflatables, vintage blow molds and, by their estimate, 20,000 to 30,000 lights. They get to work around the second week of October, stringing mainly white and some colored light sets on the house and the front-yard trees and bushes. “Doing the perimeter of the roof and making the lights perfect took an entire day alone,” Charlie said. Decorating the lawn begins in early November. The couple line the perimeter of their 1-acre lot with glowing 2½-foot candy canes. They fill the yard with such glittery delights as a small herd of reindeer all in lights and mechanized so their heads sway to music. The big inflatables include a snowman, a 10-foot Christmas tree, a 10-foot Santa Claus and an Abominable Snowman. The vintage blow-mold candles, toy soldiers and gingerbread people are heirlooms from Charlie’s father’s display, saved and handed down by Charlie’s mother. It’s a bit of a holiday carnival atmosphere, with lights flashing from the rooftop to the lawn, all to a synchronized playlist of such zippy holiday standards as “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane).” Lucky visitors might see their hosts, Charlie and Karen, waving from the gazebo. “We’ll come out with our Santa hats on,” Charlie said.

Bright idea: New multicolored blow-up and ball ornaments hanging from the live trees.

Ronni and Shlomo Mordechai decorated their Levittown home in celebration of Hanukkah. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Family: Shlomo and Ronni Mordechai-Strongin

Lights on: 4 to midnight daily

How long have you been creating a display? About 15 years, said Shlomo Mordechai-Strongin. Originally, the family went big with an 8-foot menorah displayed on the front lawn. But they eventually decided to donate the menorah to a local synagogue and opt for more lights because Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights. “When my children were young, they wanted a more elaborate display with more lights,” Shlomo said. “So I started adding lights, and I never stopped.”

What’s your inspiration? The blue and white colors associated with the joyous, eight-night Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which begins on Dec. 18, are the major motif of the decorations on the house and lawn.

What’s your holiday message? “To be happy,” Shlomo said. “It’s the holidays, so people should enjoy.”

Making light work: Shlomo said that his lights and equipment are organized and stored in boxes in a closet. He unpacked the boxes and decorated the property in early December. “Before my son went away to school, he used to help me put up some of the lights; now I’m doing it myself,” he said. His design bathes the entire property in luminous blue light dappled with strings of white lights. On the front lawn, the trunk and branches of a large Japanese cherry tree — planted after the family moved into the house in 1997 — are wrapped with coils of light blue LED lights. On the second story of the house itself, an LED projector displays a side-by-side gold-colored Star of David and a blue dreidel above a string of white icicle lights that run the length of the gutter. The finishing touch: illuminated cutouts bearing Hebrew letters spelling out the phrase “Nes gadol haya sham,” which translates into English as “A great miracle happened there,” Shlomo said.

The holiday decorations at the Imperati family's home in West Islip. Credit: Howard Simmons

40 Pace Drive S., West Islip

Family: Anthony and Amanda Imperati and their daughter, Alessia, 1½

Lights on: 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

How long have you been creating a display? Anthony said Christmas decorations are a family tradition started 35 years ago by his father, Wayne, who also lives in West Islip. Anthony joined in the tradition six years ago, after he married and he and his wife moved into their own home. “I basically took everything that I collected with my dad at his house and brought it to my house and have added year over year,” he said.

What’s your inspiration? Anthony traces his house decorating muse to childhood. He said that after he got off the school bus, he would see “decorations in the front yard that my Dad would be unpacking to surprise us.” The family also made regular visits to check out decorated homes nearby.

What’s your holiday message? “We look forward to our visitors,” Anthony said, “and hope they can come disconnect from reality and just take in the light display.”

Making light work: It’s a real group effort with Anthony, his father and cousin D.J. Russo of Deer Park and even neighbors and friends lending a hand on weekends beginning in early October. “We use ladders to suspend the reindeer on a cable from the roof to a tree so they look like they are flying,” Anthony explained. The display features two-dozen animatronic figures set up like department-store window scenes, 2,000 LED lights and more than 700 vintage blow molds in numerous designs. That includes 100 3-foot soldiers Anthony painstakingly spaces. “I have a pipe that I cut that is the exact measure and space that I need between each soldier,” Anthony said. Visitors can tune to 98.5 FM to hear holiday music synchronized to a light show of 15,000 pixels.

Bright idea: New blow molds of Santa Claus, snow people, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Frosty and the Abominable Snowman are set up throughout the yard. More spinners and spiral trees have been added to the synchronized show.

Spirit of giving: Visitors can leave a donation in a red box next to the mailbox for Make-A-Wish Foundation. Over the years they’ve raised nearly $20,000, Anthony said.

The Stark family's Westbury home is colorfully decorated for the holidays. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Family: Heidi and Michael Stark and their children, Justin, 24, and Adriana, 29

Lights on: 5 to 10 p.m. daily

How long have you been creating a display? For three years in Westbury — and for 10 years before that, when they lived in Whitestone, Queens

What’s your inspiration? “My husband’s always loved Christmas,” Heidi said. “It brings back childhood memories of growing up in Queens and of his late dad, who had decorated their attached house every Christmas season with beautiful multicolored lights.”

What’s your holiday message? “We do it to make a child’s Christmas brighter,” Heidi said. “Everybody, from kids to adults, enjoys seeing the lights.”

Making light work: Michael does most of the decorating “and I help,” said Heidi. They begin the weekend after Halloween, putting icicle lights on the first-story peaked roof and on the second-story roofline. Next comes a discussion about which decorations should go into each of the four sections of their 80-foot-wide front lawn. “We’re on a corner lot, so there’s plenty of room to spread out,” Heidi said. It takes about a month to complete the layout featuring lighted artificial wreaths hung on the house, LED-lighted snowmen, a nutcracker and a Santa Claus on the second story, and blow-mold wooden soldiers at attention on the porch. Standing above the crowd: more than two dozen giant inflatables — Minions, two nutcrackers, snow people and about a half-dozen Santas, including one flying in with three elves on a red and green helicopter. The inflatables go from flat to fluffy after Michael lays them on the ground, plugs them into surge protectors and each unit’s built-in fan goes to work, Heidi said. The last piece of holiday magic put in place is an archway of twinkling lights over the walkway leading up to the house.

Bright idea: “A big green Grinch inflatable standing in the driveway, holding a wreath,” Heidi said.

Spirit of giving: Unwrapped new toys can be left in a donation box on the front porch for the U.S. Marines Toys for Tots charity.

The Koerner family's Christmas lights display in Shoreham. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Family: Nicole and Kristopher Koerner and their children, Kristopher, 15, and Mikayla, 10

Lights on: 6:30 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday

How long have you been creating a display? 17 years

What’s your inspiration? A “bright and colorful” Babylon Christmas house the couple visited in their dating days. “We wanted our kids to have the experience of living in one of those holiday houses,” Nicole said.

What’s your holiday message? “Just positivity and hope, and the idea of being able to bring people joy — especially when families with kids drive by,” Nicole said.

Making light work: Kristopher Sr. gets the ball rolling before Halloween, outlining the house with lights, and the major effort begins on Black Friday, when the family — and a few volunteers from their son’s circle of friends — haul out the boxes full of decorations. “It takes us a good three days to set it all out and another day and a half to wire it all together,” Nicole said of a job that includes connecting more than 100 extension cords. Next, they assemble a 12-piece blow-mold Nativity scene gifted by Kristopher Sr.’s mother. “That usually goes up first because it goes in the center of the property,” Nicole said. “And we decorate everything around the Nativity.” Whimsical touches range from Snoopy and Woodstock figures ice skating on a pond created with a tarp and rope lights, to a replica of the leg lamp from “A Christmas Story” on the porch where columns are wrapped with candy-colored lights. The Koerners also make use of the natural environment for a traditional treat: Nicole notes that the first thing you see when you turn onto the block is a 75-foot evergreen at the corner of the property, elegantly zigzagged to the top with multicolored lights.

Bright idea: New features include an arch of lights over the Nativity scene, a “Merry Grinchmas” sign on the roof and an inflatable Olaf from “Frozen” sitting in a Power Wheels vehicle. “We’re hoping that people will take photos of their children sitting next to Olaf,” Nicole said.

Spirit of giving: The family accepts donations for the Babies Heart Fund of Columbia University Irving Medical Center, a charity Nicole said they chose “because my son was born with a congenital heart defect that has required three surgeries.”

Reindeer sculptures are among the new additions to the Walsh's holiday display. Credit: Linda Rosier

Family: Brendan and Melissa Walsh

Lights on: 5:30 to 11 p.m. daily

How long have you been creating a display? 10 years

What’s your inspiration? Melissa said, “While we appreciate and love all Christmas and holiday décor, we have always thought there is something special about the simplicity and elegance of all white lights.”

What’s your holiday message? “We often get so caught up in the seasonal rush, and the past couple of years have been so challenging,” Melissa said. “Everyone should keep in mind that the most important things are the simple things — family and friends and cherishing the simple moments of the season — like driving around with our family and looking at holiday lights.”

Making light work: Brendan gets to work putting up their white-light-spangled display soon after Halloween decorations come down. Adorning the property from the ground to the treetops requires him to climb 14- and 21-foot ladders borrowed from a friend in the construction business. Then he wraps string lights from the trunks to the top branches of two large trees and drapes icicle lights along the roofline of the house. Then it’s back to the ground to festoon a light-garlanded side yard fence with red velvet bows. Wreaths, glistening with white lights and more red bows, hang from the house’s 10 front windows — six on the first story, four on the second. Inside the house, Melissa, an interior decorator, matches the exterior theme with four white-light Christmas trees — three artificial and one fresh. Over Thanksgiving weekend, the lawn ornaments are put in place. The centerpiece is a plywood crèche handmade by Melissa’s father. Next to it stands a 6-foot angel figure. By tradition, Melissa said, “the infant Jesus comes out after midnight Mass on Christmas,” joining the Holy Family in the crèche. The entire yard sparkles, from the eight outside Christmas trees — six decorated shrubs and two small balsam fir Christmas trees purchased at a Lynbrook Fire Department sale — to the lighted candy canes lining the walk. Be sure to wave back to the full-size, lifelike Santa figure standing in the doorway framed by lit garlands.

Bright idea: “Last year we added a row of five very lifelike reindeer statues lit by spotlights on the ground, and we increased the herd by two this year,” Melissa said.

Rocklein family's holiday decorations feature the warm glow of neon. Credit: Howard Simmons

Family: Jeff and Courtney Rocklein and their children, Brandon, 24, Jillian, 21, and Payton, 16

Lights on: 4 to 11 p.m. daily

How long have you been creating such a display? 12 years

What’s your inspiration? “Neon is a passion of mine,’’ said Jeff, an electrician and sign installer. “It gets you in a nostalgic mood for simpler times, the old days that are pretty much gone.” As LED lighting replaces older signs, he added, “We’re giving neon a second life, and it gets to shine for another year.”

What’s your holiday message? “This is the first full-fledged holiday season in three years,” Jeff said. “I hope seeing our display lightens somebody’s day in a little way — if a lit-up house can do that — and helps everyone just enjoy the holidays.”

Making light work: It’s hard to resist feeling the warm fuzzies seeing the glowing holiday display Jeff fashions from recycled neon sign fragments that he cuts up, welds, rivets and screws together and paints in his shed. Although his neon extravaganza features a few custom-fabricated items, such as a candy cane and Christmas tree, “90% of the stuff on the house is from recycled old storefront signs, some of them very old,” Jeff said. “At work they will be throwing things out, and I’m always thinking, ‘what can I do with that?’ ” Jeff traces his interest in the “dying art” of neon sign-making to the neon wreath he made in a course years ago. He was soon replacing his “generic icicle lights” display, year by year, with neon creations like a “Let it Snow” sign crafted with letters from an Astoria Savings Bank and another sign’s inverted “m” for the “w.” Raw material has come from shuttered pharmacies, a Broadway delicatessen that closed in the 1980s and a jeans company sign that provided the ingredients for a yellow arrow on the roof pointing to Santa’s landing spot. The latter is so heavy it’s installed with a pulley system in a group effort that takes all of Thanksgiving week with assistance from Courtney and the children. “There’s a sigh of relief on the Saturday after Thanksgiving when everything works,” Jeff said.

Bright idea: “In the last three years we have rebuilt the Christmas tree in the side lot,” Jeff said. “It is now 30 feet tall with a flashing neon star on top.” This year, green and blue neon borders were added to the corners of the house.

The holiday light display at the home of Steve and Dory Risolo in Massapequa. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Family: Dory and Steve Risolo

Lights on: 4:30 to midnight daily

How long have you been creating a display? The Risolos began putting up their annual display 14 years ago, shortly after moving to Massapequa.

What’s your inspiration? “Christmas always mattered to us and our family, and we try to keep up the tradition,” Dory said. Three years ago, after learning that their daughter was pregnant, they added a “Joy” sign to the display. The birth of Angelina 2½ years ago has inspired the proud grandparents to dedicate this year’s display to their granddaughter, who lives two blocks away and is now old enough to appreciate their handiwork. “When she sees the lights, even when she’s driving by with her mommy and daddy, she’s oohing and aahing,” Dory said. “It’s all about our granddaughter this year.”

What’s your holiday message? “It’s a combination for us,” Dory said. “No. 1, obviously, we just appreciate every year that goes by that we get to celebrate another Christmas with our family. My husband and I want to dedicate this year to Angelina because she’s brought us so much joy as grandparents. But with that being said, we’re mindful that there are so many people that are celebrating while dealing with health issues, and we want our other message to be: never take anything for granted, every day we wake up is a blessing, as is being able to share Christmas with your loved ones year after year.”

Making light work: “Basically, my husband does everything on his own,” Dory said. Steve uses his pickup truck to transport the decorations from attic storage in a house they own in Bethpage — it takes about 10 trips to ferry the large containers to Massapequa. “Little by little he starts decorating,” Dory said. It’s a 60-hour effort that transforms their home into what she calls “a big sugarland house.” The sweet details include large, striped peppermint candy canes framing the doorway and multicolored net lights on the bushes bordering their property. There are, of course, appearances by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the rest of Santa’s sleigh-pulling crew.

Bright idea: With their granddaughter a big fan of the Disney movie “Frozen” and its snowman, Olaf, they added a 3-foot-tall plastic Olaf cutout. “The baby gravitates to it whenever she sees it,” Dory said.

Christmas lights at the Marciante home in St. James. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Family: Laura Marciante and her daughters, Michele Marciante, 30, and Nikki Petrocelli, 36

Lights on: 4:30 to 11 p.m. daily

How long have you been creating a display? Michele said her mother started the family tradition in 1993. While her father was busy working as an insurance agent, Laura would spend her days decorating the outside of the house. “When my sister and I came home from school, Mom would make us dinner, take us to our activities and then she would stay up until 3 a.m. decorating inside the house.”

What’s your inspiration? Laura learned her decorating skills from her father and grandfather. Decorating for Christmas looked like so much fun that Michele and Nikki gladly started pitching in when they were youngsters. “What kid wouldn’t get excited over this?” she explained. “We kept doing it [decorating the house] as we got older because of the way little kids would come around, and seeing their faces made it all worth it.” When Nikki’s two children visit, they get so excited that they start turning everything on, Michele said, adding, “I’m 30 years old, but when I come home . . . it still makes me smile although I’m the one that did it.”

What’s your holiday message? “We want people to feel merry and jolly and have something they can do together as a family that makes them smile during Christmastime,” Michele said. “Our message is to enjoy being with your family!”

Making light work: This year, Nikki saw how much fun Michele was having decorating the house that “she wanted in on the fun,” Michele said. Laura, Michele and Nikki began talking about this year’s design back in September, tossing out ideas around the swimming pool. By tradition, Michele writes up a schedule for her mother’s approval. “Once I go over it with my mom, I laminate it so she can’t change it and act like a drill sergeant,” Michele said with a laugh. The whole shebang takes about a month, three ladders of different sizes and occasional forays out windows onto the roof. “My mom’s favorite part of the display is the red sleigh that says ‘Believe’ on it, Michele said. “That’s one of the last things we put on the lawn. It’s like the bow on top.”

Bright idea: “We add a little bit extra every year, whether it’s new lights or a figurine,” Michele said.

This is the final year for the Oemcke family's sparkling holiday display in North Massapequa. Credit: Howard Simmons

186 N. Syracuse Ave., North Massapequa

Family: Steve and Carrie Oemcke and their children, Hannah, 22, Jake, 20, and Steven, 16

Lights on: 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

How long have you been creating a display? For 20 years

What’s your inspiration? “My house is basically old-school Christmas,” Steve said. “It’s not the flashing lights, it’s not synchronized, it’s just traditional, old, classic Christmas.”

What’s your holiday message? “In our final year, we want to thank each and every one who has come to see our display, and we hope we have created some great memories for you and your family,” Carrie said.

Making light work: Carrie said her husband is the creative force behind the displays, having learned the craft decorating his parents’ house while growing up in Massapequa. At the Oemckes’ North Massapequa house, “Over the years, the whole family has gotten involved,” Carrie said. Nowadays, Hannah and Jake have left the nest, leaving the Santa’s helper duties to their dad and brother Steven. Planning begins in October. “He [Steve] literally has a schedule of what needs to get done every weekend,” Carrie said about her husband. “He’s got everything mapped out.” One of Steve’s pet projects is setting up Santa’s house inside the family garage, a classic Christmas scene visitors can peer into through a plastic window. In whimsical displays, a penguin with a pole pulls a fish out of hole in a skating pond, and bears sell Christmas trees.

Bright idea: Last Christmas saw the debut of a bakery featuring mechanized animated figures created by Brooklyn-based Lou Nasti’s Mechanical Displays. “It’s four mechanical dolls making Christmas cookies and cakes,” Steve said. The animatronic bakers go through the motions of making dough with a rolling pin, putting cupcakes in a pan, mixing batter and frosting a cake.

Spirit of giving: The Oemckes have raised $65,000 over the past 12 years for the Memphis, Tennessee, charity St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and hope to raise another $10,000 this holiday season. Visitors can drop money into a collection box next to a Santa Claus figure. Santa also holds a box of free candy canes. “We go through 6,000 to 8,000 candy canes a year,” Steve said. But you needn’t make a donation to take one of the sweets, he added.

The Fabris family's Christmas light display in Centereach. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Family: Dina and Anthony Fabris Sr. and their children, Amanda, 22, Nicole, 19, and Anthony Jr., 18

Lights on: 5 to 10 p.m. daily

How long have you been creating a display? More than 12 years

What’s your inspiration? After Dina and Anthony met in the 1990s, they had dinner at each other’s houses and discovered that their prospective in-laws set up equally elaborate interior Christmas decorations. “Our parents went huge on the inside of the house, so we figured we’d go huge on the outside of our house,” Dina said.

What’s your holiday message? “The world has been going through some tough times with COVID, and we want to bring some happiness back and make things as normal as we can,” Dina said.

Making light work: Anthony said his goal is to create “a Christmas wonderland, a place you dream about or see on TV, and then when you come here, it comes to life.” He added, “I try to have a little bit of everything,” including homemade and professionally produced decorations. Anthony, a sixth-grade teacher at Selden Middle School in Centereach, starts putting lights on the outside of the house during August vacation; by October the whole family is pitching in to set up animatronic displays. The homemade decorations include a row of 12 wooden, LED light-dotted snowflakes stretching 120 feet across the front lawn. But there are also elaborate animatronic scenes worthy of a theme park. Inside one of their two garages, an animatronic talking reindeer named Spike — “he has spiky hair,” Anthony explains — peers out from a barn door, sings Christmas songs and recites “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Spike is flanked by animatronic elves named Evan, Eddie and Ernie. “Evan the elf blows bubbles,” Anthony said. Half of the yard features flashing lights synchronized to music that can be heard from a loudspeaker or, if you’re just driving by, at 107.7 FM on your car radio. “My wife hands out candy canes to every kid,” Anthony added.

Bright idea: Debuting this Christmas in the other garage is a candy factory tableau with animatronics designed by Lou Nasti’s Mechanical Displays of Brooklyn.

Spirit of giving: Visitors can leave donations to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital in the white and red donation box.

Newsday's LI Life Holiday Lights online edition was created by photo editors Hillary Raskin and John Paraskevas, video editor Susan Yale, digital producers Joe Diglio and Josh Stewart, and news editor Jonalyn Schuon; interviews were conducted by Jim Merritt.

Rosemary Olander is the editor for Newsday's Sunday LI Life and Act 2 sections. She has been an editor at Newsday since 2005.

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