Though it may be the first year of a formal Christmas light competition in Howard Beach, it’s certainly not the first decorative rodeo for most of the participants, who look forward to the seasonal family activity each year.
The Howard Beach Dads Facebook group, which is organizing the contest, has got enough entries in its Christmas Light Fight to map out a full-neighborhood route for visitors to tour the displays from New Howard Beach to Hamilton Beach. Though the pandemic promises to drastically change the holidays this year, participants say that it also makes a little seasonal escapism all the more important.
“After Covid came, I said I just got to light up this neighborhood,” said Tony Modafferi. “I was actually going to do it in the summer and my wife said, ‘Are you nuts?’”
Modafferi, who moved to Howard Beach in the ’90s, started putting up Christmas lights around 20 years ago to lift his family’s spirits. When he lost his brother, a fire captain, at the World Trade Center on 9/11, and his mother-in-law a year later to date, he knew he needed a way to cheer up his kids for the holidays.
“It was a lousy year and I had small kids. I had to get them out of a funk. They were very depressed. My in-laws lived with me,” he said.
He started putting up more lights, and bigger ones, and soon enough it became an annual tradition. Eventually he switched to WowLights, a programmable LED light display that has allowed him to design a display of Santa Claus, Mariah Carey and Christmas trees dancing in sync with holiday tunes.
Though he has to shut off the music at 10 p.m. every night, Modafferi said that seeing the families come to his house has been very moving under the pandemic.
“I figured the parents can come out and take these kids over here and that’s their out,” he said.
Hamilton Beach resident Michael Giglio’s display boasts approximately 90,000 lights, and that’s without at least $4,000 of decorations that he has packed away in storage.
“I just can’t find room for it,” he said
Giglio has been participating in “megadecorating” for most of his adult life. He previously worked as a supervisor for Macy’s Herald Square, which puts up a Santa Claus Palace every year.
Giglio’s ambitions are not limited to the neighborhood competition either.
“I’m involved in the worldwide great light fight,” he said referring to a national contest that people apply to compete in.
Over in New Howard Beach, Fred Caputo took a completely different approach to decorating. His garage features a group of animated snowmen, while a more traditional nativity scene sits in a brightly lit window above them.
“It’s one thing to throw up lights and have a lot of lights,” Caputo said. “We tried to make a scene where it’s cohesive and there’s a single story line. That’s how we looked at it.”
Contest winners will receive a prize donated from one of several neighborhood businesses including KeyFood on Cross Bay Boulevard, Food Emporium of Lindenwood, Allesandro’s Sausage & Peppers, Bae Salon, Bougies Salon, J&M Chocolate, Sorella Boutique, Battaglia Skin Clinic, House of Holidays, Mist Kiss Air Brush, Josie and Jade Boutique, Lavilla, Brina Ciaramella, Esq., the JFK Airport Hilton and Empanadas on the Rise.
But all the participants the Chronicle spoke to say they’re not in it for the prizes.
“It’s a great way to spend the night with the family looking at lights. My kids love it. They look forward to it,” said Caputo.