Spreading cheer to make amends

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Frank Picozzi hadn’t shared the story about what drives him to spend a year working on his Christmas light display until he told his wife Kim this year. Even now that he has broken the silence, it is difficult for him.

As has become tradition, Picozzi was outside his home on Gristmill Street in the Hoxsie section of the city Thanksgiving night for a preview of the computer-driven light show that annually attracts hundreds of people to search out his home.

The static display is a wonder in and of itself. Lights outline the house, loop over his driveway, create a Christmas tree, reach into the night sky in the form of giant snowflakes and fill a panel that transforms into cartoon characters, music instruments and so much more.

Picozzi wasn’t hard to find in the gathering Thanksgiving night. He was standing beside a crew from Channel 6. He had out his phone and was preparing to Facebook Live his daughter, Stephanie, who was still in the hospital after delivering twins, Thomas Joseph and Emily Rose Kirchner.

“She never misses it,” he said. The TV crew had the camera set on a tripod and ready.

Picozzi checked the time on his phone. Another couple of minutes and it would be 8:30. If Picozzi had done everything as planned, he wouldn’t have to touch a thing. The preview would start and end exactly as intended, but until it happened Picozzi couldn’t be certain. He was anxious.

People, bundled against the cold night air, took on ghostly forms. They spoke in soft voices as if in church, excited for the familiar opening when the stick-like outlines of a man and a woman came to life and the voices of Frank and Kim greeted their guests.

And then the scene came to life. Picozzi held up his cellphone. The TV crew went to work. Peoples’ faces reflected in the glow of a Christmas tree that swirled, changed color and grew with the music. They applauded. Above the snowflake rotated, the fence danced to the tune and giant ornaments in honor of the twins glowed above the roof. The ornaments are this year’s addition to the display.

Miraculously, none of the supporting structures came down in the windstorm of Oct. 29, where gusts of 80 mph were recorded at Conimicut Point. The storm felled trees and limbs, cutting power to 153,000 Rhode Islanders.

“There was nothing I could do,” Picozzi said, relating how he watched one of the displays sway in the howling wind and finally went to bed expecting to assess the damage in the morning. But not a single light was lost.

More appropriately, they are not conventional Christmas lights. Each “light” is a pixel controlled by a computer chip that can be programmed for color and a precise time when it is to switch on or off. Picozzi was a confirmed Christmas home decorator before turning to the computer, stringing up an estimated 100,000 lights and staging the inflatable Christmas characters on his front lawn. He has changed the show ever since he turned to computers 10 years ago.

The display also has new elements. On Saturday nights prior to Christmas, Santa makes an appearance. There’s a mailbox for Santa letters, which get answered via a list that comes in the mail cataloguing all the “Warwick nice kids.” Last year, 171 kids received letters.

Why does Picozzi do it? There’s more to it than his love for this time of year.

The story goes back to when Picozzi was 8 years old and the family lived in a tenement house behind a barroom in Pawtucket. They had little money and, as Christmas approached, Picozzi remembers taking what little money he had and buying himself some candy and a chocolate Santa. When he learned his brothers David and Kenneth had used what money they had to buy their mother, Rose, a gift he was ashamed. He didn’t have anything to give her.

At that point Picozzi said he vowed to “always put other people before myself. I’m trying to make things right for when I was a kid.”

Picozzi laughs, “Actually, I’m doing it for a selfish reason [to fulfill his promise].”

Rose never got to see Picozzi’s home displays.

“She would have loved it,” he said, imagining she would have been at the house every night. As it is, the Picozzi show – it lasts more than an hour – has become tradition for hundreds, if not thousands, each season. It may even be the scene for a marriage proposal this season, but Picozzi doesn’t want to jinx anything, so he refrained from elaborating.

Picozzi takes contributions that totaled more than $4,800 last year. As the case last year, donations this year will go to The Tomorrow Fund.

The Picozzi show plays from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on weekdays and Sunday and from 5:30 to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. It will run to New Year’s Eve. The Picozzi home is located at 75 Gristmill Road.

Picozzi will cancel the show on rainy nights for safety reasons. Visibility can be difficult and he doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. Additional information is available on the Picozzi Family Christmas Display Facebook page and his own website. The home is located at 75 Gristmill Road.

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