By Bill Primavera
Among all the holidays of my life, the one I remember most vividly is Christmas when I was seven years old, living in a row home in Philadelphia. That was the year my parents suggested that I could have a holiday party and invite the neighborhood kids to see our gigantic tree, decorated to the nines with hundreds of balls and demonstrating our family’s specialty skill with hanging lead tinsel so precisely on each branch that it created a cascading effect of a frozen waterfall.
I loved decorating the lower branches with this material until it was discontinued in 1972 at the suggestion of the Food and Drug Administration, claiming that the lead posed a threat to children.
My particular delight was that at our tree’s base was an oval track where a Lionel train, originally my dad’s from the 1930s, chugged along with a clatter that I can still hear in my head. My brother Bobby, six years older than I, to whom Dad’s set was given, allowed me to lie to my friends and say the train set was mine rather than his, and that I could operate it myself as long he was present to supervise.
My preeminence for holiday decoration and wonder was short-lived, however, when my arch nemesis who lived next door, Joey Delayo, announced that his dad was decorating his front porch with strings of colored lights and we were all invited to come see it that evening. Christmas decoration outside, I wondered? I had never seen it.
Sure enough, later that evening, Joey’s dad flipped the switch on what seemed to be endless strings of lights on the porch, illuminating the brick facades of the entire block. And Joey beamed as his mom handed out candy canes to all the children who came to see the only outdoor display on the block. God, I hated that kid.
When I asked my dad if we could also decorate outside for Christmas, he said it was a waste of time and money. “Why decorate for the neighbors?” I remember him saying.
Today, more and more homeowners want to decorate for the neighbors. Whenever I see a home with its lawn highly decked out for the holidays, I get the urge to pull up, knock on the door and meet the owners. I’m sure that they would be great people who love children and probably are still as wondrous as kids themselves.
In my old neighborhood, I remember the most talked about home at Halloween was owned by a fellow named Dominic who lived on a quiet street with his wife and three children. His lawn was a dark wonderland of scary figures, more than life-sized, in various guises and contraptions, from execution in an electric chair to scenarios with video amplification, music and smoke.
One year, I stopped and knocked on his door, but Domenic wasn’t home. However, a young mother was walking past the house with her two children, ages 8 and 4. When I asked what they thought of their neighbor’s display, the woman told me with great animation about all of its special effects.
I later reached out to Domenic by phone and asked whether he knocked himself out each year for the children or for himself.
“It’s both,” he said, explaining that it’s “in his blood.” “My parents always decorated their lawn and instilled the fun of it in me. Now my dad comes to help me build new devices to add to my collection.”
The scary fun of Halloween seems poised to overtake the serenity of Christmas in terms of money outlay. The National Retail Association reports that today we spend about $8 billion on costumes and outside decorations for Halloween, more than double of what was spent in 2005.
What happened to the day when my biggest effort in entertaining my child for Halloween was to carve out a pumpkin and place a candle inside?
As for that Lionel train set, my very kind and generous brother Bobby, knowing how sentimental I was about it, presented it as a gift to me several years ago. Since then, sadly, my brother has died but I think of him at least once daily because the train set sits in a large box in the corner of my office, awaiting the opportunity to once again provide noisy entertainment around the base of my Christmas tree.
Bill Primavera, while a publicist and journalist, is also a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.