Each year as it gets close to Christmas, drivers slow down just a bit on residential streets as those who are young at heart enjoy the holiday light displays. Everyone knows the address or road of that one home whose lawn is decorated with more figures and lights than can be counted.
James Tomeo, 28, has spent weeks decorating his East Northport home with more than 25,000 Christmas lights and hundreds of figures in hopes of raising money for Cohen Children’s Medical Center. On the night of Dec. 7, his home was transformed into Santa’s workshop where children would take pictures and talk to Santa and Mrs. Claus while marveling at the display.
“Every year the fundraiser has grown bigger and bigger,” he said. “And with that the display has continued to grow bigger and bigger.”
Tomeo said his massive holiday light display is inspired by his late mother, Jacki, who died when he was 8 years old. He recalls fondly that his mother’s favorite holiday was Christmas and remembers frequently stopping with her to admire a large light display in Deer Park near where he went for karate lessons as a child.
“I slowly started building up my display over time, and I wanted to have a huge display like his,” Tomeo said.
In 2015, the Elwood school district board of education trustee decided to put his light display up and host an event to raise money for the Leukemia Foundation in honor of his mom. Over the years, he’s transitioned to donating any funds raised to the Cohen Children’s Medical Center.
“A lot of people stop by each year for their kids,” Tomeo said. “So, we wanted to do something for the children.”
In order to create his holiday light display, the East Northport resident said he starts assembling his army of more than 600 lit and blow-up figurines featuring popular characters from Disney movies, Star Wars, Sesame Street, Looney Tunes and more by Halloween.
“Everyone comes on Halloween to see what I’ve started with on the roof,” he said. “It’s become a Halloween tradition.”
His neighbor Sarah Perinchief said it’s a community activity to watch the display come together each year.
“Last year, when he did it I saw it from The Best Market parking lot,” she said. “I was like, ‘Where is that house’ so I took a drive around in October, and I could see the lights.”
Among the more than 25,000 Christmas lights are a number of personal decorations that Tomeo has made throughout the years. For 2018, he custom built an American flag made up of more than 2,000 bulbs with the words “Peace on Earth” to hang above it. In front of the flag, a Santa Claus kneels over a pair of combat boots. Surrounding the American flag and Santa, are choirs of angels. The installation was designed to honor Tomeo’s brother-in-law, a U.S. Marine who will be deploying overseas for Christmas.
“It’s our Christmas present to him,” Tomeo said. “That’s our way of telling him that we wish him the best overseas and a safe return home.”
High school volunteers from Commack, Elwood and Northport school districts came dressed as elves Dec. 7 to help oversee a raffle of baskets and items donated by local business owners in an effort to help raise money for the children’s hospital. Among the prizes raffled off were a 55-inch television and spending a day in the life of New York State assemblymen Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) and Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills).
“It’s awesome,” Perinchief said. “It’s such a fun, nice family-friendly event for a good cause.”