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Watt Christmas

Neighborhoods where they do the season bright.

Neighbors in the 1700 block of Smedley Street in South Philadelphia pool resources to light up their street. (BONNIE WELLER/Inquirer)
Neighbors in the 1700 block of Smedley Street in South Philadelphia pool resources to light up their street. (BONNIE WELLER/Inquirer)Read more

Move over, Christmas stockings. These lights will knock your socks off.

Some homeowners believe that displaying three singing Homer Simpsons beats just one single singing chipmunk, and that supercalifragilisticexpialidocious lights rule. So one evening, take the kids to visit neighborhoods with sparkling stars to spare.

You could start in South Philadelphia, where traditions are often born. On the hidden 1700 block of South Smedley Street, the holiday lights are so bright, you could read a newspaper inside your car at midnight. Barbara Oldrati, block captain, says the tradition dates back 50 years.

Each year, 40 families contribute $25 to light the central greenway. They restock extension cords and decorate like fools: a nativity scene, a tree-shaped tower of lights, Santa's sleigh with Rudolph and friends, another Santa with presents, ice-skating kiddies, snowmen and soldiers.

"When the lights are all lit, when the stereo system plays Christmas music - it's worth the work," Oldrati says. "I save money from the block's Halloween party and hire Santa Claus. I bring hot chocolate, and neighbors bring snacks for kids. Last year, Santa performed a magic show."

In Huntingdon Valley, Colette Gabriel embellishes 2130 St. Alberts Circle. "I'm into decorating," she says. "On this street, almost everyone started going all-out eight years ago.

"It's a family tradition. I always feel good about it - as long as nothing electrical blows up. I hope when I die, my children keep it up."

In Cherry Hill, immoderation sparks neighborly combat - almost like Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick in last year's Deck the Halls.

Frank Italiano, of 825 Mercer St., has been "going overboard" for nearly 30 years, while next door, David Croge, of 821, started his display a decade ago. Italiano says, "I usually have more original lights. He decorates before me, but his son and daughter-in-law help. I do it myself."

Italiano's 100,000 lights frame animated reindeer, snowmen, elves, a Ferris wheel; a rocking horse; a reindeer with a moving head; and a musical tree, among other displays. On the porch, a train set plays carols near a fireplace. He's got everything but the partridge.

Croge says, "We clown around as if it's a real fight. Each year we do more. I love it. I dress as Santa every evening from Dec. 10 to 23. I sit on the porch and give out candy canes. One family drives three hours from past the Poconos. As long as it doesn't rain, I'm there.

"It's all about the kids," he says. "One guy brings a few hundred dollars in toys every year, and many people donate candy canes. Last year, I gave out 5,000 canes. People in their 80s come every night, too, and sometimes they're crying. I can afford it, so I do it. You meet a lot of nice people doing Christmas."

Keepin' up with the Clauses, Jerry and Cheryl Schneider, Ray Dawes, Todd and JoAnn Allen, and Frank Ledwith transform Garth Road in Oreland into Candy Cane Lane. Santa appears on the first Saturday in December, bringing toys. To light the way, neighbors construct 10-foot-tall, lighted plastic candy canes; they manufacture 20 each year, sell them to other neighbors for $100 apiece, and send profits to a needy family.

"Christmas changes everybody for a short time," says Jerry Schneider. "They grow more patient, kinder, more willing to give. It can't be Christmas every day, but if you can give back a little, that's what it's for."

In the Poconos, Russell Weiss, who lives on Hickory Lane in the Weir Lake development in Kunkletown, has emphasized Xmas Xcess since beginning work at Pleasant Valley Manor, a nursing home in Stroudsburg. Every year the home sends three buses to see it. "I do it for the old ladies," he says.