It’s the time of year when homes begin to glow with the warmth of decorated boughs and lit candles. But three Warwick residents have taken holiday decorations to an entirely new level.
Programmed to holiday music broadcast via transmitters to your car radio, these free shows are unlike the static twinkle lights your average homeowner strings on their shrubbery.
PICOZZI FAMILY CHRISMAS DISPLAY: 75 Gristmill Rd.
Just a block off of West Shore Road at 75 Gristmill Rd. is the Picozzi Home. Drive by the Picozzi’s during the summer, and it looks just like every other cozy abode on the street. But drive down the street during the holiday season and you’ll be able to see 75 Gristmill from blocks away.
Glowing with 92,000 lights powered by three miles of extension cord, the Picozzi home transforms from a private residence to a public holiday display.
Frank Picozzi has been decorating his home like this for four years, and each year attempts to trump the previous year’s display.
He said he works on his display every night of the year.
“I love doing this. This is my hobby,” he said.
Picozzi spends hours programming the lights to be perfectly timed to holiday songs, which he broadcasts via a radio transmitter to 97.1 FM.
When he’s not programming, he’s busy building and devising the next best lighting innovation. Even during the summer he’s thinking about Christmas.
“Everyone thinks we’re idiots and we’re crazy,” he laughed, saying most people don’t want to think about Christmas lights on the 4th of July.
But not Picozzi, he entertains his neighbors on Independence Day by offering them a light show in his back yard. This summer he tested out his electric “fireworks” which he’ll premiere in this year’s show. The key to making them look real is all in the programming and the twinkling strobe lights, he said.
Though he spends 365 days a year planning and working on his display, the set up for the show doesn’t begin on his front lawn until Oct. 15.
He uses LED lights that change color, strobes, twinkle lights and larger bulbs. He even has two talking characters, Jingle and Bell, who narrate the show.
“What I did the first year is primitive compared to what I do now,” he said.
Making such a spectacular light display isn’t a cheap hobby. “Electricity’s not as bad, the lights aren’t on all the time,” he said.
It’s the hardware that costs him, and Picozzi estimates he’s poured about $10,000 total into his display.
Picozzi said he’s had to make sacrifices this year, especially with the downed economy.
“I eat bologna sandwiches every day,” said Picozzi. “That’s because you like them,” quipped his wife, Kim.
Kim is very supportive of her husband’s hobby.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “I love Christmas. But I think people think we’re crazy.”
Picozzi agreed, but he also knows that people look forward to his display each year.
He said hundreds of people visit his display each weekend, sometimes by the busload. So what do his neighbors think about the traffic, the lights and the noise?
“The neighbors are very supportive. They wait for it every year,” he said. “They let people park their cars in their driveways and stand on their lawns. We wouldn’t be able to do this without great neighbors.”
“He puts a lot of work into the display, it’s just incredible,” said neighbor, Kathleen Kelley, who lives directly across the street. “If he’s got that much motivation, he must be related to Santa Claus.”
Picozzi’s show is programmed to 16 different holiday songs that people can listen to inside their car, or outside on the lawn.
“Programming 20 seconds of a song can take between 4 and 5 hours,” he said.
“Believe in Holiday Magic,” Picozzi’s pièce de résistance took him four months to complete.
“I like to be creative, and in this way I can find a way to do it,” said Picozzi.
The display is more than just a personal hobby, it’s a way to entertain and give back to the community.
Frank and Kim take their display and their roles in the community pretty seriously, and can be found outside mingling with guests almost every night of the display. On the last few nights of the show, Santa Claus himself pays a visit to the display.
The Picozzis also collect donations for Neighbors Helping Neighbors. Over the 4 years they’ve collected $7,300. Last year they received $4,200 and they hope to top that this season.
The show will begin this Friday and runs Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 to 9 p.m. (Fridays and Saturdays until 10) unless it’s raining.
“I’m so nervous that night,” said Picozzi of the Friday after Thanksgiving. With people watching for the first time, it’s a nerve-wracking debut.
Still, each year Picozzi comes each year back for more. Why?
Everett Lewis started his display 15 years ago, but has transformed it from a solo hobby to a family affair. With five children, it’s all hands on deck at the Lewis household.
“It’s gotten bigger over time,” said Lewis. “We plan to make it bigger and better every year.”
Last week the kids were busy putting the final touches on their display, which can be seen just off Post Road.
Abby, 14, strung multi-colored lights on a tree with the help of her sister, Allie, 10. Meanwhile, Everett IV, 12, Michael, 10 and Kevin, 9, worked to untangle another set.
For the Lewis family, it’s not just Christmastime that gets the attention -- they bedeck their front lawn for Halloween and The Fourth of July, too. For Halloween, giant inflatable pumpkins take their place on the lawn, and for Independence Day, waving flags and patriotic hymns abound.
The display takes about 3 to 4 weeks to set up, but they plan for it all year. This Friday they’ll debut their light show, but it won’t be until Dec. 1 that they add their trademark inflatable snowmen and Santas.
One thing that sets the Lewis’ display apart from the others is their snow machine, which compresses water and air into light flakes. Even with unseasonably warm temperatures, the Lewises will have snow on their front lawn.
For the Lewis children, making their Christmas display is a family tradition. But what’s the best part?
“The end,” said Everett IV, “Watching what we have made. It gives me a sense of pride.”
But getting to the finished product isn’t always easy.
“You have to decide what to plug in where,” said Michael, age 10.
“While trying not to trip on the wires,” said his twin sister, Allie.
Lewis says his display is inexpensive to run, not just because of the limited amount of time the lights are on, but because of his green energy source.
“We have about 55 solar panels on the back of the house,” he said. Those panels help to power the display in the front yard.
In addition to being environmentally friendly, the display is also charitable, and there is a donation box for West Bay Community Action. Last year the family raised $100 for the organization.
The show at 12 Shenendoah runs this Friday through Dec. 31 from 4:45 to 9 p.m. Sun. to Thurs., and until 10 p.m. on Fri. and Sat (weather permitting). On the weekends the music plays outside, but on weeknights it can only be heard via radio on 106.9 FM.
ROWLAND FAMILY CHRISTMAS DISPLAY: 3073 West Shore Rd.
On West Shore Road near the Buttonwoods Plaza is yet another display, this one created by Howard and Debbie Rowland.
Howard is an electrical engineer with a passion for Christmas, and after reading about holiday light displays, he thought he’d try to make his own. Four years ago he started with 5,000 lights on 48 channels.
Now his display contains about 30,000 lights on 272 channels, including a 19-foot “Mega Tree” with nearly 10,000 lights. He designed and built the tree himself, but he didn’t stop there. He’s also got smaller evergreens, a talking Santa, leaping arches and more.
His show is programmed to about 12 songs, which can be heard on 96.5 FM.
“It’s about making people feel good,” said Debbie, “And cheering them up for a while.”
Even during the day and in the early stages of set up, people were stopping on West Shore Road for a better look. The vivid colors of the LED lights shone bright even in the mid-afternoon sun on Tuesday.
This week, the Rowlands are putting their finishing touches on the display. Howard begins setting up three weeks before Thanksgiving, and the show will begin Friday. The show runs nightly from 4:30 to 11 p.m.
“I do most of the work,” laughed Howard. “I’m the engineer, she’s the artist.”
While Howard is busy programming the songs and stringing the lights, Debbie helps by painting figures like Charlie Brown decorating his sparse Christmas tree.
Like the other local displays, the Rowlands will be collecting donations from onlookers. On Dec. 17 they’ll be asking for donations for Friends of the Warwick Animal Shelter, a volunteer organization that helps the shelter with things the City doesn’t cover. They’ll provide hot chocolate, cider and cookies to spectators on that night.
Despite their location on a main road, the Rowlands say their display never stops traffic. They urge their visitors not to block neighbors driveways, and to make sure they’ve pulled off to the side of the road to enjoy the lights.
To date, they haven’t received any complaints from neighbors.
“We even got a card from the West Shore Terrace Association thanking us,” said Debbie.
To the Rowlands, their light display is their way of spreading the joy and mirth of the season.
“It’s a lot of work… but it’s well worth it,” said Debbie.