A gift of light
During this time of year, Warwick residents Frank Picozzi and Freddie Moussally and his son Anthony, 11, spend nearly $250 to $300 more than they usually do on their electric bills.
But what are they spending the money on? Well, you could say it’s to fund Christmas displays, but actually, it’s to keep the spirit of Christmas and family tradition alive. Picozzi and the Moussallys, along with Howard and Debbie Rowland and Everett Lewis and his family, enjoy not only the excitement of the season, but also the joy it brings to others.
“So many people tell us, ‘It’s our family tradition. Our kids are always going to remember it.’ That really touches me,” Picozzi said Thanksgiving night, moments before he lit his home at 75 Gristmill Road for the first time this season. Every night, the lights go on at 5:30. Sunday through Thursday, he turns them off at 9 p.m. They stay lit until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
“We get thousands of people that come every year. We’ve had buses from the senior centers and nursing homes sit here for hours watching it. They come to see what I created and they enjoy it. It makes me feel great. There’s not much to do at Christmastime for free.”
For Moussally, setting up the display at his home at 11 Lake Crest Circle with his son Anthony, a sixth grader at Randall Holden Elementary School, is one of the best things about Christmas.
“As he gets older, he tends to take more of a lead and has more of a say in the design and where to put everything,” Freddie Moussally said. “It was his idea to build a shed that has a virtual Santa Claus inside, and he helped me build mountains out of wood.”
Rowland, an electrical engineer, and his wife, Debbie, have nearly 35,000 LED lights that operate on 300 channels for their display at their home at 3073 West Shore Road, located near the Buttonwoods Plaza. They also have a 17-foot mega tree, plus 20 mini trees that change colors.
That’s not all. Their display features four red and green arches, starbursts on the roof, wreaths, and more. Mostly everything is set to a computer program, Light-O-Rama, and synchronized to Christmas music. Viewers can tune in to 96.5 FM to follow along.
“I like tinkering with things that are electronic and electrical,” Howard Rowland said.
On Dec. 15 from 6 to 9 p.m., he and his family will be outside to greet guests and serve them hot chocolate, apple cider, cookies and collect donations for a charity, the Friends of the Warwick Animal Shelter. Their display runs each night from 4:30 to 11 p.m. More information can be found at www.rowlandchristmas.com.
The Moussally display features 15,000 lights, plus 18 inflatable decorations on their front lawn, as well as glittering reindeer, polar bears and a few igloos.
“He loves the inflatables,” Freddie Moussally said of Anthony.
But the manger scene, which features a baby Jesus, is Anthony’s favorite part. He sets up the manger last every year.
“It’s out of respect,” he said. “It’s rude to put it up before.”
In all, the pair spends about 100 hours assembling the display. They started decorating the day after Halloween. On weekends, they began their work at sunrise and carried on through sunset.
They purchase a majority of their decorations on Craigslist or at yard sales, and also make many items at home, using PVC piping, wood and other materials.
Picozzi, who like Rowland is hosting the holiday cheer for the fifth year in a row, said he also works from dawn until dusk on weekends and evenings to set up his display, crafting many of the items himself. It takes him at least 200 hours to erect. Additionally, he prepares music arrangements throughout the year. While he has speakers on his lawn, people can tune in to 97.1 FM to hear the music.
During the last five years, he has dedicated more than five figures of his own cash toward the display.
When he first started, he used about 14,000 incandescent lights. Now, he has approximately 103,000, plus hardware that controls 450 circuits, and between three to four miles of extension cords.
He runs the display via Light-O-Rama. With it, he operates a 22-foot-tall Christmas tree, 14-foot-tall electronic fireworks on the roof, two 10-foot-tall electronic people that speak to the audience, and about a dozen mini-trees, which are all synchronized to Christmas music.
“Doing 10 to 15 seconds of one song usually takes about three to four hours to do, sometimes more,” he said.
Picozzi dedicated several months to his favorite Christmas song, “Believe in Holiday Magic.” It’s a Disney hit that he said strikes a personal chord, as he certainly believes in holiday magic.
His wife of 33 years, Kim, agrees. Often, she stands outside when people gaze in awe at their home.
“I love the joy it brings people,” she said. “Everybody is so happy when they see it.”
This year, said Kim, her husband had reservations about setting up the display. Finances, or a lack thereof, were the main reason. However, after Kim, along with the couple’s two daughters, Stephanie Kirchner and Jackie Picozzi and her 10-year-old son Tyler, a fifth grader at Hoxsie Elementary School, did a bit of nagging, Picozzi couldn’t resist.
As a result, they got rid of cable channels like HBO and Showtime. Also, he passed up tickets to Boston Red Sox games, and they resisted the urge to dine out, among other things.
“We found a way to afford it,” Picozzi said. “I found some really cheap, weatherproof enclosures. I used old lamp cords, extension cords, and patched them all together. They cost me a fraction of what they should have been, and they work, so we were able to do it. Doing that, I was able to expand the show this year. I like to make it bigger. I think people expect it.”
New elements include a sphere with eight vertical arches, and more lights. He began setting up items on the roof in the middle of October, which he normally does.
“My wife won’t allow anything on the front lawn until after Halloween,” he said.
Hurricane Sandy and the recent nor’easter threatened the display. However, they were no match for Picozzi’s hard work.
“I put everything up with steel braided guy wires,” he said. “I have them bolted right to the roof. I’m a roofer, so I can fix the holes later. It was troublesome because if I had taken them down for Sandy and the nor’easter, I never would have had it ready in time. It has to be up by Thanksgiving – it’s a tradition. That’s my family’s rule.”
He and his family were among 50 or so people who gathered to see a 20-minute light show Thanksgiving night. It started at 8:30 sharp. When it ended, the air was filled with joyful cheers and applause.
“It was the best ever,” said Picozzi’s sister-in-law, Pat Picozzi. “Each year, there’s more and more. The music is very heartwarming. It puts you in the holiday spirit.”
Her husband, Picozzi’s brother Jerry, added, “It was awesome as usual. My brother works very hard on it and he does a great job.”
Picozzi’s daughters feel the same.
“My father’s awesome,” Jackie said. “The display gets bigger and bigger every year.”
For Stephanie, she’s touched that in addition to creating the display year after year, he sets up a collection bucket for contributions, which he donates to non-profit organizations. In the last four years, donations to Neighbors Helping Neighbors have totaled $10,000. This year, donations will go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a charity that grants wishes to children that have life-threatening illnesses.
“He’s going to decorate the house anyway, so it’s great that he donates the money,” said Stephanie.
A few days ago, money was stolen from the donation bucket, which was propped on Picozzi’s front lawn. Despite the theft, Picozzi’s not letting it turn him into the Grinch. Instead, he replaced the funds out of his own pocket, and bought a more secure bucket.
Each Saturday night, Picozzi will be dressed as Santa.
Anthony Moussally hopes his father will do the same.
“I want my dad to dress up like Santa and give out hot cocoa to everyone who comes,” Anthony said. He also would like to get a mega tree for next year and collect donations for people in need. This year, they made a donation to Make-A-Wish.
Moussally’s wife, Renee, and their daughter, Arianna, 14, a freshman at Pilgrim High School, love the display.
“A lot of memories are being made,” Renee said. “Everyone enjoys it. A lot of the kids know to come here now. We’re getting busier and busier because over the years people keep coming back for more. And it keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
The Moussallys turn the display on as soon as the sun goes down each day. On weekends, they keep it lit until 10 p.m., and until 9 during the week.
“I look forward to doing this,” Anthony said. “I get so excited when Christmas comes.”
They start disassembling everything after New Year’s Day. It takes them a weekend to finish.
“The key is to put everything away correctly, or you’ll pay for it the next year,” Freddie Moussally said.
Picozzi begins taking down his display on New Year’s Day. The process takes about three or four days.
“It’s a lot of work and it gets frustrating at times,” he said. “Sometimes, I want to get my truck and run it all over and take it to the dump when I’m having glitches and problems. But once it’s up and running, I sit outside in my truck, put the radio on and watch. That lights me up, and makes it all worth it.”
Freddie Moussally agreed.
“We deal with some frustrations, but it’s a high five at the end,” he said.
For more information about Picozzi’s display, visit www.picozzichristmas.com. Learn more about the Lewis family display at www.lewischristmas.com.