What it takes to set up a holiday display worthy of Clark Griswold



November is when the calendar canonizes many winter holiday traditions: Black Friday shopping, maybe snowfall and, of course, Mariah Carey shopping. annual blessing that it’s finally okay to start yelling “All I want for Christmas is you” at any time of the day.

For many New Englanders, this is the home stretch for putting together holiday lights that have been in the works since New Year’s Day.

“Honestly, we’re working for the next year,” said Rich Arsenault, whose Northbridge’s illuminated display regularly attracts over a thousand visitors each night, but takes a regularly scheduled break this year for future planning (the general rule is two years later, one year sabbatical.). “My peers are all out there in the cold right now. I am already in the construction process for next year and am placing orders. ”

It seems that every city has this house: the one with enough Christmas lights to confuse airline pilots into thinking it’s a runway at Logan Airport instead of someone’s lawn. But behind these bright displays, there is more than an astronomical monthly electricity bill.

This is a small community of holiday lighting enthusiasts who just want to bring a little cheerfulness to their communities or, through TV shows, visitors from as far away as Hong Kong. But Rome was not built in a day, and neither are these opulent illuminations.

“We start planning for New Years Day when we take it apart,” Amanda Sachs said with a laugh.

Father Christmas visits Jacob Sachs at his family’s light show in Bellingham. —The Sachs family

Sachs and her husband, Justin, spend most of the year on their Bellingham lighting display, which begins with a Halloween display that goes on to Christmas during the month of December. The first part of the year is devoted to redesigning the show for the next holiday season and ordering equipment.

“I’m going to cook my wife a nice dinner and say, ‘Hey, I know you said let’s watch a movie and have some family time tonight for Valentine’s Day, but can we do that while we put them on? Christmas lights? ” Justin Sachs joked – sort of. “She is a very understanding woman. “

The Arsenaults have their annual exhibition dismantled from the first week of January. The family spends the spring considering what exhibits will be kept from the previous year, some of the decor dating from 1997. The summer is spent building and repairing wear and tear.

“By the time January gets here, you don’t really want to spend a lot of time in the yard fixing things,” Arsenault said. “You just want to put it away. Summer gives you the opportunity to make these repairs. ”

Assembly of these holiday displays typically begins in October, with the start date of the Christmas season always being targeted after Thanksgiving dinner. Daniel Amarante enlists as many family members as possible to erect his exhibit near the Rhode Island border in Dayville, Connecticut. But for this year’s show, he estimates he spent at least two hours a day during the week and all day on Saturdays and Sundays to get the finished product.

Assembly of the walking trail can take a week, with wooden stakes all around the Amarante property to guide visitors through displays of Christmas trees and holiday characters. Light poles should be kept in good condition and sometimes require a paint job.

The lights are hung with zip ties and, thanks to the national television show “The Great Christmas Light Fight”, family members like Amarante’s wife and mother are needed to help guide the crowds and keep them going. a nighttime count of the thousands of people passing through the property.

“I thank all my family for helping me, because there are a lot of things that I do myself, but everyone plays an important role,” Amarante said.

There are additional challenges in Bellingham, where the Sachs family decorates for Halloween and Christmas. Versatility enters the fast transition from vacation to vacation, which only takes a few days.

Black widow spider posters turn into snowflakes. Lights that look like drops of blood on Halloween are ice cubes on Christmas.

“It’s a very expensive hobby. Saving money is definitely a plus, ” said Justin Sachs. “But the more technology improves, the more energy efficient it is and the better it makes the show. So that’s an easy win-win. ”

Speaking of money, when it comes to electricity bills during the holiday season, ignorance can be bliss.

“We literally don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about it among ourselves, ”Arsenault said of opening the winter utility bill each month with his wife, Leslie. Costs are falling thanks to technological innovations and energy efficiency standards, he said. “It’s actually a lot lower than ever. “

Arsenault estimates that he and Leslie have already used up to 250,000 lights for their holiday exhibit. But now the presentation – which also takes place on an organized, radio-broadcast music playlist, uses pixels – individual lights that can be swapped out on their own instead of having to replace an entire strand.

“Now I can sync to the music and host a much bigger event,” Arsenault said. “Technology has kept pace. “

The pixel method also requires significantly fewer bulbs – the Arsenaults use around 25,000 which can transform a variety of colors to create a brighter display. It took around 16,000 pixels to display the Sachs family on Halloween this year.

While these massive displays took on new life and accelerated with technology, they didn’t start out that way. The evolution of lighting began many years ago.

The Sachs display began with additional lights purchased from Home Depot to bring out a Christmas photo with their newborn son. The display eventually shifted from a neighborhood appeal to a regional appeal in which the Sachs family met other members of the holiday lighting community, such as Warwick, RI, Mayor Frank J. Picozzi, who was known for his own exhibition before taking office.

“People always say I’m Warwick’s Santa, so being mayor would be a demotion,” Picozzi joked to WJAR NBC 10 last year of his annual posting before winning his campaign.

Amarante’s display dates back to her late father’s love for Christmas and smaller, bright displays made up of old incandescent bulbs, which the family repaired annually in the living room before decorating the exterior.

“My love for Christmas took to the next level, and we would go to the store and buy an inflatable, and I was also begging to have a little angel,” he added. “What 10-year-old wants Christmas decorations for gifts? That’s where it started. ”

A drone photo of Daniel Amarante’s exhibit last year in Dayville, Connecticut. —Ryan Hargraves / EagleEye LLC

Amarante’s display became a display in which passers-by would park their cars to take pictures. When his father died in 2012, the display took on new meaning.

“The year my dad spent was the starting point or the breaking point. It was like we were either going to stop this or do it in his honor. So I made that decision, ” Amarante said. “It’s kind of the turning point when it really got big.”

Many of these exhibits come from the heart and even partner with local charities to get visitors to donate to the organizations while they enjoy the lights. But it is not always filled with festive fervor.

The growing popularity of these displays can lead to crowded streets and car horns – chaos that doesn’t exactly inspire a visit from Santa.

The Sachs family asks drivers via signaling to keep their car stereo volume at reasonable levels while listening to the radio station synchronized with the display. The family also does good neighborhood deeds throughout the year, like stacking firewood and mowing lawns for elderly neighbors to offset some of the vacation traffic.

The Arsenaults are strategic with their “two years on, one year off” schedule to give neighbors a break from the holiday crowds. City and town officials are generally flexible with postings and recognize that it is only for a small part of the year.

But it’s the holidays, after all. Scrooge and Santa Claus coexist.

“I might have had a Grinch in all the years I’ve done this,” Amarante said slyly.

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