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December 17, 2010

It's the most wonderful time of the year



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On any given December night, my family is likely to see a car or two across the street, headlights pointed toward our house, watching my father's Christmas light display, which sparkles and dances in our yard from 5:30 p.m. to midnight every evening.

Ronald Maffei's love for Christmas decorations began when he was a child, helping to decorate his grandmother's two apartment buildings in Brooklyn. When he and my mother, Maryann Maffei, moved to the Bronx, they continued the tradition by hanging a plastic light-up Santa and eight plastic reindeer off their fire escape. She says that their first thought upon moving to our home in Mahopac was, "Just think how many Christmas lights we can put out!"

And they did. It started as a large display, with a candy-cane lined driveway, light-up nativity set, and that same Santa and reindeer set "flying" off our garage roof. With my father's retirement in 2007, though, the lights have taken on a life of their own. A former director of computer programming for the Fire Department of New York, he has engineered the various lights to move along with Christmas carols, which play on nearby radios. In addition to a variety of blow-up and plastic decorations, Ron has created two dancing mega-trees, a variety of arches, and a singing Santa face in our front yard.

In addition to the many hours Ron spends programming the lights, the whole family, including my younger sister, Jillian Maffei, and often one or more family friends, are drafted into putting them up in the cold. What makes it all worth it, Ron said, "is the light on the children's faces when they see the magic of Christmas." He said this with some sarcasm (as I said before, when someone is watching the display, we don't see any children's faces, just headlights in the dark), but deep down, we all know the truth. When we're putting the lights up outside and someone drives by to compliment how good they look, it's my father's face that's really lighting up.

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Sentimentality and nepotism aside, the Maffei House at 325 Archer Road is only one of several extremely well-lit homes in Mahopac each holiday season. Any winter's drive around town will yield beautiful results, and doing so has become a tradition for many families. If this is true for your family, or if this is a tradition you want to start, this year there are a several homes you shouldn't miss.

The Quaedvlieg family of 78 Rebecca Lane puts on a similarly large-scale display every evening from 4:30 to 10 p.m. Filling their yard with an assortment of over 100 plastic light-up figures, Glenn Quaedvlieg, an electrician, has timed the lights to music, which plays softly throughout their yard. Each of the figures is different and many can be classified as vintage. Though many of Linda Quaedvlieg's favorite pieces are older, The Quaedvleigs use the newest LED technology to light them.

"It's hard to say we're being green with all these lights," Glenn said. "But we try to keep up with the new technology and keep our electricity usage down as much as we can."

The Christmas light tradition began for the Quaedvliegs when Glenn's parents-in-law, Frank and Rose Eulagio, put up decorations in White Plains. Now, Frank and Rose join Glenn, Linda, and their two daughters, Nicole, 16, and Erica, 14, each year to help put out the lights, a task that Frank estimates takes about 160 man-hours.

"When the kids were young, they loved it, and once you get started, friends ask about it, and you want to keep up the Christmas spirit," Glenn said. "It's our gift to the community."

Another excellent display can be found at the Rodriguez residence at 22 Cook Drive. Run by the family collectively, the display features over 60,000 lights on their one acre of land, using between two and five miles of wire, and is the largest Christmas display in lower Putnam County. The main feature of the Rodriguez display is their large collection of over 60 inflatable decorations, which are shown alongside driveway arches, hanging stars and a mega-tree. Originally a decoration the family bought for their sons to keep in the backyard, the display grew into a major collection. Many of these inflatables are rare and one-of-a-kind pieces from across the world, including Mexico, Europe and major cities across the United States.

Working together as a family, the Rodriguezes do much more for their display than simply put out some inflatable decorations, a feat which in and of itself takes two people nearly five hours a day through the month November. During December, however, Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman stop by the Rodriguez house on the weekends for photographs. The Rodriguez family updates their Facebook page of the display, "Christmas in Mahopac" regularly with news and announcements. A full schedule for the lights and free photo opportunities can be found there as well.

Of course, there are many other beautifully decorated homes in Mahopac, and all are worth a look. Certainly stop by Archer Road, Rebecca Lane and Cook Drive during your ride around town, but don't forget to take in the displays in between and around these as well. You may find your favorite decorations appeal to you for special, simple reasons. Anita Paustian cites one of her neighbor's homes on Mount Hope Road as having the most beautiful decorations in Mahopac.

"It's not a big display with lots of flashing lights," she said. "But it's perfect. They have a big tree filled with the most beautiful orchid colored lights. It's just breathtaking."

PLACES TO VISIT

325 Archer Road: 5:30pm-midnight through New Years

78 Rebecca Lane: 4:30pm-10 p.m. through New Years

22 Cook Drive: 5-9 p.m. (M-Th.) 5-11 p.m. (F-Su) through Dec. 28

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