For Frank Picozzi, Christmas starts on Thanksgiving night.
Actually, he spends most of the year preparing for his favorite holiday.
“I really love Christmas, and I always did,” he said. “I got that from my late mom. When you’re a kid, it’s just magic.”
And 2013 has been no different. For the sixth year in a row, Picozzi is creating a winter wonderland display at his home at 75 Gristmill Road. The show, which will take place each night, is synchronized to music. Viewers are encouraged to tune in to 97.1 FM to follow along.
While this year’s display features classic Picozzi props, including a 23-foot-tall tree of lights and three 14-foot-tall electronic fireworks with old-fashioned incandescent lights, Picozzi has a few tricks up his sleeve to keep viewers interested.
“I don’t ever want this to get stale, so I have to come up with new stuff,” he said. “People have always enjoyed it, but this year is going to be spectacular.”
Picozzi is using cutting edge technology. Some of the equipment is imported from China.
“These are surplus bulbs in those big signs you see in Tokyo or Times Square,” he said, pointing to a light. “They are called pixels. Each one has its own small circuit board inside. I can control each individual bulb and turn it any color in the spectrum.”
He began ordering the lights in January, placing several orders through the months. He didn’t disclose how much each sale cost but said shipping fees were at least $120 per order.
“I spend every spare dollar I can,” Picozzi said. “People love it and I feel like I should be doing it for them.”
When he wasn’t building, he was busy programming. He set the props up in his garage so he could see sequencing results and make adjustments.
“I used to have 400 circuits up until last year,” said Picozzi. “Now, I have 4,000 circuits, so it’s a lot more challenging to program and build. It takes me 10 times longer to program than it used to, but I have a lot more control. I can control every bulb.”
The bulbs are incorporated on a giant light fan, which he plans to perch on the roof with the fireworks. He spent between 300 to 400 hours assembling it.
“It took forever,” said Picozzi. “Then, I had to do my own wiring.”
Other projects were also painstaking. He’s grateful for his wife of more than 30 years, Kim, who made the process easier for him.
“She was my hero this year,” he said. “When I put together the tree, the bulbs had to go on a vinyl strapping. Kim was kind enough to cut 3,950 four-inch pieces of electrical tape so I could wrap it. It took weeks.”
Kim is happy to help. She, along with Picozzi, gets a thrill to see the hundreds of vehicles pull up to their home each night to view the display.
“I love it,” she said. “I don’t think people realize how hard he works on it.”
But the hard work doesn’t deter him. What used to be a hobby has morphed into a passion.
“Some people tell me that their kids will always remember it, and that touches me deeply,” he said.
Picozzi said he and Kim get “thousands and thousands” of visitors each year. People send e-mails, Facebook messages, cards and notes, telling him that they look forward to it.
“I’m just an average blue collar guy and won’t make any kind of mark on the world, but I can’t think of any legacy I’d rather leave than being a part of someone’s Christmas memories,” he said. “I envision an 8-year-old coming to see my display this year and imagine him 25 years from now telling his 8-year-old about going every year to see [the] display. That motivates me and keeps me going.”
Just don’t ask him how much money he’s spent on the display through the years, or how much his electric bill is during the holidays. He doesn’t keep track on purpose.
“I’d be afraid to know,” said Picozzi. “It’s become expensive. Let’s just say that I could buy a very nice car.”
As he has done in the past, Picozzi will again set up a collection bucket for contributions, which he donates to non-profit organizations. The first four years, he gave $10,000 in donations to Neighbors Helping Neighbors. Last year, donations went to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a charity that grants wishes to children that have life-threatening illnesses. He plans to donate to Make-A-Wish this year, as well.
On Tuesday, he received a letter from Make-A-Wish, which noted that due to his contribution, the organization was able to grant a wish for a 3-year-old girl, Angeles, who has a heart condition and spends much of her time in hospitals going through treatment. Through his donation, she enjoyed a trip to Disney World with her family.
“It wasn’t my generosity, it was the people that visited the display and donated,” he wrote in a recent Facebook post. “I want to thank everyone that donated last year for making this little girl’s wish come true. Let’s do it again this year.”
He’s already got items on the roof, and is hopeful the weather cooperates. If it rains, he loses time to assemble the rest of the display, and snowstorms present even more problems.
“And then there are glitches to chase,” Picozzi said. “When everything’s all up, you have to tweak things. I need at least a couple of weeks for testing. I take a week off from work to get a large part of it finished.”
Kim said their neighbors are supportive of the display. They never complain about the lights or the crowds it draws.
“Everybody around here is really wonderful about it,” she said.
The first official night for viewing is Thanksgiving at 8:30 p.m., which will showcase a short, three-song preview. Until then, Picozzi will do his best to prevent neighbors from getting a sneak peak.
“He’ll say, ‘Stop peeking!’” Kim said.
Every night, the lights will go on at 5:30. On Sunday through Thursday, he turns them off at 9 p.m. They stay lit until 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, with visits from Santa each Saturday night in December.
Learn more about Picozzi’s display at PicozziChristmas.com, as well as his Facebook page, “Picozzi Family Christmas Display.”