Wooden soldiers line the walkway to a quaint-looking brown house. A cast of characters—penguins, carolers, Snow White and her seven dwarves—populates the small lawn. Thousands of stringed lights adorn the house’s façade. No, this isn’t the North Pole: It’s 50 Parsons Street in Harrison, home to Roy Aletti, who, decked out in his red flannel, overalls, and a white mustache ornamenting his jolly face, tends to it all.
This December marks Aletti’s 38th year bringing “merry and bright” to a whole new level—decorating the house that’s been in his family since 1910. What started as a childhood chore, helping his father decorate their house, has become a lifelong hobby. “When I started decorating the house myself at around 16 or 17, I started adding a little more, and a little more, and a little more, and it kept growing and growing until it got to the point where it is now,” says Aletti. “My dad wasn’t as insane as I am with the decorations; I really took it into the outer stratosphere.”
Aletti’s pride in his display, and what he says is the key to its success, is the large number of antique decorations that populate what’s become known as Roy’s Christmas Land. “I’ve got a few newer decorations, but it’s mostly older stuff from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s,” says Aletti. One of Aletti’s most valued antiquing treasures is a six-foot-tall Santa Claus mailbox, made during the ’50s in Santa Claus, Indiana. “The kids drop letters to Santa in the mailbox and I’ll mail them back a letter,” he says. “I’ve got tons of them that I’ve saved throughout the years. Some of the letters are so cute that I could almost make a book of them.”
Location: 21 N Kensico Ave, White Plains
Time Spent Decorating: 3 days
Lifespan of Decorations: “Squirrels destroyed many of the light strings beyond repair two years ago. Older incandescent strings are replaced with more efficient strings when the budget allows. I try to use the lights until they just don’t have any life left in them.”
Decorating Help: One roommate
Number of Lights: 10,000+
Decoration Used the Most: 290 gumdrop lights of various sizes
Behind this “organized chaos” of decorations, though, is a meticulous arrangement, split into two distinct parts. The right side of the display is dedicated to the cultural side of the holiday and home to the residents of the North Pole, including Frosty, Rudolph, and Santa Claus. In Aletti’s opinion, too many other decorators focus on the “bling and flash” of their displays, and as a result, forget to include the more traditional aspect of the holiday. So Aletti dedicates the left portion of the house to the holier decorations, including angels, choir figurines, and Aletti’s highly esteemed and treasured nativity set, which came about, oddly enough, after watching Home Alone. “I noticed the scene where Kevin hides in a nativity scene in the front of a church and I looked at it and said, ‘Wow, that’s the perfect design,’” Aletti says. “I was so nuts that I called the set director and the design people all to try and figure out where to get it or make it.” After countless calls to Hollywood, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Taking a still frame from the movie, Aletti set out to make a perfect replica. With a little help from his friends, he put together a plywood version of the backdrop and hired an artist to complete the replica, which is now proudly displayed on his lawn.
Of course, Roy’s Christmas Land doesn’t pop up over night. Planning for this merry metamorphosis starts during the summer, beginning with a trip to the Midwest in search of auctions and antiques. “I usually take one to two trips a year specifically to find unique antique Christmas decorations,” Aletti says. With the help of his friends and employees from his store, Harrison Paint Supply, Aletti begins unpacking and setting up the decorations during the first week of November. After three to four weeks of physical labor and thoughtful placement, Roy’s Christmas Land is first lit at the beginning of December, and after that the display can be seen in its full glory every day from 5:30 pm to 1 am. These four weeks bring an influx of bright-eyed visitors, all in search of a little holiday spirit. Aletti encourages his visitors to take pictures from outside the yard’s fence, and, on occasion, lucky sightseers can snag a picture with a very special “guest.” Donning a custom-made Santa suit from Adele’s of Hollywood, along with a custom-made beard, Aletti plays a convincing Santa. “I’m a robust guy, big and short just like Santa,” Aletti says. “It’s fun handing out candy canes and talking to the people who stop by.” Aletti’s dedication to creating such a joyful setting is no doubt the reason why approximately 5,000 people visit 50 Parsons Street during the holiday season.
Location: 50 Parsons St, Harrison
Time Spent Decorating: 3 to 4 weeks
Decorating Help: Employees from Aletti’s paint store, plus two additional paid helpers for heavier decorations
â€‹Number of Lights: Around 25,000
Decoration Used the Most: Toy soldiers, ranging in height from 30 inches to 17 feet
A few miles down the road from Roy’s Christmas Land is another local slice of the North Pole. Chuck Barringer’s holiday display, with computer-controlled lights, motion-activated speakers, and synchronized music, is definitely a bright time and the right time to rock the night away. About seven years ago, Barringer started out solo, decorating his two-story house and tiny yard with modest lights and decorations. Each following year brought a few more lights and decorations. But, when Barringer added a high-tech update—a computer-controlled system to synchronize the lights—in 2009, his setup caught the attention of his neighbors, leading to a neighborhood collaboration, now known as the North Kensico Christmas Lights Show. The display includes a total of four houses and their adjoining trees, all covered in more than 10,000 lights that illuminate the entire block of White Plains’ North Kenisco Avenue. Barringer’s stock of holiday lights and decorations is so large that prop managers from the 2013 Paul Giamatti film, All Is Bright, contacted him in hopes of borrowing some items from his vast collection.
Grab your family, hop in your car, and take advantage of these festive Westchester neighborhoods before the lights come down.
White Plains. Off of Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains, you’ll find the neighborhood consisting of Rose Street, Briga Lane, and Sammis Lane. Residents of this area go Christmas crazy, with every house decked out in holiday lights and décor.
Highview Terrace, Yonkers. This decorated block includes a house that features more than 100,000 lights, a large train set, and other high-end items from the North Pole.
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New Rochelle. Off Wilmot Road, head to the intersection of Stratton Road and Vaneck Road to find a fully decorated neighborhood.
Iroquois Road, Ossining. Among the homes that line Iroquois Road, you’ll find a house featuring animated decorations, including a vintage pickup truck adorned in flashing lights.
Barringer’s tech-savvy approach to holiday decorating includes synching those 10,000-plus lights to a playlist of Christmas favorites. “The lights are computer-controlled and set to music that you can listen to from the comfort of your vehicle on 107.7 FM,” Barringer says. “There’s a small motion-activated speaker by the mailbox if you want to get out and stretch your legs, too.” Barringer manages the synchronized display from his home computer through hardware and software from Light-O-Rama, a New York-based special effects company.
The schedule of the light show is painstakingly planned down to the very last second. “It takes about an hour per minute of a song to program the sequence that changes the lights connected to the hardware controllers,” says Barringer. Planning for the light show begins during the summer, when Barringer spends his days finding innovative ways to build new props. “I look to create props from objects that were never designed to be in a Christmas display or never intended to be displayed in the manner that I do,” Barringer says. “I’ve taken salad bowls, beach pails, and pool floats and made them into candies.”
After building and planning through the summer and fall, Barringer takes three full days to complete the setup before opening night on November 30. The show runs every night from 5:30 pm to 11 pm, until January 2, and features a playlist of more than 50 tracks, ranging from Christmas classics to Hanukkah songs, making the show, as Barringer says, “enjoyable for all.” After every fifth song, the lights dim halfway, making way for the appearance of a virtual Santa peering out from the attic window.
Despite his modern twist on decorating, Barringer’s love for Christmas lights began during his early childhood, when Barringer and his dad would drive around different neighborhoods, looking for the best Christmas decorations. Through his light show, Barringer hopes to encourage this cherished tradition in other families. “I’ve seen carloads of teens, families, and seniors pressed up against the windows with big grins on their faces, singing along to their favorite songs,” says Barringer. “What’s not to love about Christmas lights? They brighten the faces of those around and lift a person’s spirits.”
But how much does ConEd charge to be this merry and bright? “It’s maybe $400 to $450 over my normal bill,” says Aletti, attributing this somewhat reasonable number to his use of LED lights. Barringer agrees with this lower-than-expected number. “Since the lights aren’t constantly on, I’m really not using that much electricity. Even if the lights were on all the time, the cost from ConEdison would only be $2.25 each day,” Barringer says. “That’s a price I’d pay to see the smiles on the kids that see the show.”