It’s a tradition many families can relate to: kids in the backseat of the car, sipping hot chocolate in their pajamas, while parents navigate neighborhoods near and far in search of the best holiday displays. That radio station, the one that plays nonstop holiday music from the day before Thanksgiving until the arrival of the new year, that’s playing in the background.
This year, a well-known and well-loved local display is back, and launching on Saturday with the Tomeos’ Annual Holiday Lights Fundraiser, right here in East Northport.
James Tomeo brought the tradition from Elwood, where he grew up, to his new home in East Northport in 2015. The holiday lights display and fundraiser ran for four years, before Covid and the birth of his daughter halted the event – temporarily.
This Saturday marks the return of his East Northport Christmas House, a strenuous but rewarding endeavor that requires about 200 hours of labor, James said. He began work on the display right after Halloween, and put in most of the hours himself. (He admits to not being very good “at heights” and has a friend help him with the roof.) Four weeks of work later and the display is almost ready for viewing.
It’s a labor of love that began when James was just a kid.
When he was eight years old, James’ mom Jacki passed away from leukemia. The following year, he and his father began a festive display that honored Jacki’s love for the holidays and how they brought family together.
“It started off with snowmen and Santa on each side of a planter,” James said. “And then it evolved.” The display now consists of over 1,000 pieces; most of the decorations are blow molds, which lend a nostalgic feel to the scene. There are pieces from James’ childhood, as well as those that have been handed down from other families, many who return to see their memories brought back to life in the Tomeos’ display. James said a fair amount of the display has also been purchased, at garage sales, and around town. As the display grew, James and his dad raised funds that were donated to the Leukemia Research Foundation.
Since the move to East Northport, proceeds from the fundraiser, and any contributions made throughout the month, are donated to Cohen Children’s Medical Center. James’ wife Karissa had surgery for hydrocephalus when she was just eight months old and continues to monitor an arachnoid brain cyst to this day. In 2018, the display raised upwards of $3,000 for Cohen’s.
This year the holiday lights fundraiser will include raffle baskets and gift certificates, a photobooth with Santa as well as appearances by Mrs. Claus and Rudolph, a letter writing station, hot chocolate and a mailbox with a direct line to the North Pole.
Holiday wreaths and displays from James’ business, Seasonal Scapes LI, will also be available for purchase, with a portion of sales going toward the fundraiser. The display will be lit for the month of December; visitors can make donations at any time.
“I enjoy seeing the families come and make those memories together,” James said of the stream of cars certain to stop in front of his house for the next month. “It’s something I did as a kid.”
The East Northport Christmas House is located at 16 Mansfield Lane South in East Northport. The annual holiday lights fundraiser takes place this Saturday, November 27, from 5:30 to 8:30pm.
So what happens when it’s over? When not in use, the lights and decorations are stored “everywhere,” said James, from a storage unit and the shed, to the attic and garage.