Nick Giacomantonio hunches over a floodlight staked in his lawn, tweaking its alignment. Charlie Brown and Snoopy decorations bathe in the light, skating on a homemade oval.
“Can you see Charlie Brown OK?” Giacomantonio asks, squinting up at the washed-out 120-inch screen a few feet away where Charlie Brown’s Christmas is playing silently.
For almost a decade, Giacomantonio, a cardiologist, has curated an elaborate Christmas lights and music display on his front and back lawns on Rosebank and Connaught avenues. He spends two weeks worth of work, spread over at least four weekends, getting everything set up. He has spent thousands of dollars collecting decorations and paying bills over the years.
“Me and Amazon are buddies,” he says with a laugh.
The display theme has always been Charlie Brown, but this is only the second year he has screened the film. He does it all just to spread the Christmas spirit throughout the community.
“Christmas is spiritual, even though we have commercialized the hell out of it,” he says. “It means different things to different people.”
For Giacomantonio, Charlie Brown embodies Christmas spirituality. The cartoon has been a part of his life since childhood.
“Charlie Brown is trying to do the right thing,” Giacomantonio says. “He never does it right, but stumbles to the right thing. We all make mistakes in our world.”
Giacomantonio sets up a donation box for the Salvation Army near the sidewalk every year. He matches the total donations he receives through the season. Last year, he says, the total was close to $6,000.
“People are tremendously generous,” he says. “Last year, one lady gave $2,000 on behalf of (being) a fellow Charlie Brown lover.”
Legacy of lights
One of Giacomantonio’s older brothers, Carman Giacomantonio, lives three houses down the street. Carman Giacomantonio puts up a similar Christmas lights display every season.
When both houses are lit up, Nick Giacomantonio says people think he and his brother are competing. But really, the lights are set up for their mom, Angie, who liked Christmas lights. She died in 2008.
“We started decorating because of her,” he says. “That’s the real source.”
Giacomantonio remembers growing up in Whitney Pier in Sydney and how his mom dreamed of winning a local Christmas lights competition. It was a dream she often shared with her husband, Jimmy.
“We used to drive around in our truck … and see Christmas lights and she would say, ‘Jimmy, someday, Jimmy,’” says Giacomantonio. “That day never came.”
When Angie could no longer go to see the lights, her sons started decorating and brought Christmas to her.
“As we got older and had our own kids … we got Mom to come (to Halifax),” says Giacomantonio. “One year she stayed with me, one year she stayed with Carman.”
When Giacomantonio plugs in, the decorations on his lawn come to life. Charlie Brown and Snoopy glow. On the roof, Santa’s reindeer lead the way with radiant noses.
Some areas are still shrouded in shadows, waiting to be tended to.
Shortly after Giacomantonio turns on the lights, Sarah Thompson pulls over with her three children to take a look and snap some pictures with Snoopy. Charlie Brown was also a common figure in her childhood.
“My mom grew up with (Charlie Brown), because she’s young as well,” Thompson says. “It’s interesting to see this passed down generation to generation.”
She says the lights make a “magical Christmas” for her young children.
Giacomantonio’s lawn twinkles in the dark as speakers blare Christmas carols.
“There’s still a ways to go, but I’m getting there,” he says. He doesn’t want to add additional decorations to his display, even though people suggest this every year.
He hunches over his phone, adjusting the lights and music, as drivers pull over to stare.
“Come, be generous, don’t be mean,” Giacomantonio says. “Enjoy it while it’s here.”