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Christmas 2017

First Presbyterian Hosts Emily Hellenbrook

By Glenn Adams

Renowned soprano Emily Hellenbrook will be the featured soloist at the First Presbyterian Church of Batavia this Sunday, December 10. The service begins at 10:45 and will also feature the Women's Choir, congregational singing, and a message by Rev. Dr. Roula Alkhouri. Join us at this special time of the year as we celebrate the advent of Christ's earthly ministry. We are located at 300 East Main Street in Batavia.

The DiSalvos are skipping this year's Christmas light spectacular on Fargo Road, Stafford

By Billie Owens

The biggest Christmas lights display in Genesee County is going dark for 2017.

Jim and Connie DiSalvo, who live at 9180 Fargo Road in Stafford, are simply taking a break.

"We're going on hiatus, this would have been our 20th year," Jim DiSalvo said. "We usually start preparing in late September and early October. We're planning on having them back next year -- bigger and better."

That's quite a statement considering that over the years they have ramped up the spectacle to include more than one million light bulbs, more than 300 characters, and an underground network of electrical cables crisscrossing the property that, if stretched out end to end, would span two miles. 

Not long after making their decision, wouldn't you know it, the national limelight beckoned.

Producers for the seasonal ABC network TV show "The Great Christmas Light Fight" contacted the DiSalvos months ago about being featured on the popular reality series of Christmas lighting one-upmanship. In it, select families across America are followed as they turn their properties into illuminated beacons of all things Christmas. The winner gets a lot of money.

Nonetheless, the DiSalvos stuck to their plans.

Maybe they'll get another shot at the show another time, maybe not.

But fleeting fame, fierce competition, and certainly not the lure of prize money, have ever been the point.

People, particularly littles ones, are why they've kept it going all these years.

"Last year was the biggest ever, some nights more than a thousand came here," Jim DiSalvo said. 

Families meandered for an hour or two around all the displays, walked along the lit paths, across the bridges spanning the streams, and down the illuminated hillsides.

And Kids' Night is held on the second Tuesday in December. The couple's son, Sam DiSalvo, serves on a Boy Scout committee that organizes hundreds of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cubs and Brownies to visit Santa and Mrs. Claus there, in person. Every child receives a toy.

"It's a lot of fun," Jim said in a 2008 wintertime interview with The Batavian. "There is nothing I enjoy more than walking outside on a night like this and seeing the cars and the people. It was all for the kids."

It's also a lot of work.

All of the planning, implementation, maintenance, storage, organization takes great time and effort.

As they begin to gear up for the year's light show early each fall, they unpack all the precisely stored strings of lights, which are tested before being put away at the end of each season. 

By Oct. 24, the lights are all out and retested. Electrical outlets are staked by boulders and nearly every tree.

"This would have been an easy year, we have a great fall," Jim noted.

Between four and six men are put to work setting things up.

The crew gets busy decorating a half-mile of acreage from the top of one hill along the little valley to the opposite hilltop, which is named "like English houses are named" -- in this case "Swallowvale" after the swarms of insect-eating swallows that descend on the DiSalvos' 160 acres of land a couple of months each spring like clockwork.

The frontage area by the main house is chock full of eyecatching things, the amount would cover about two football fields.

"There are five electrical services feeding two miles of underground cable," Jim said, like having five houses powered up on your front lawn.

More than 500 extension cords are put to use, by one previous estimate, and at least four 200-amp generators power the show.

At 4:30 on Thanksgiving afternoon, the power is flipped on. Voila! Another Christmas season begins.

People come from all over to see Fargo Road's Christmas lights. Other property owners there also put up lights and decorate their properties beautifully. Over the years, the view down Fargo Road off Route 5 was become appreciably brighter from one Christmas to the next, with more homes adding to the spirit-lifting mix.

A week before Kids' Night in December, Sam arranges for high school juniors and seniors to the tour the property, with him as their guide. He gives them pointers for how to keep the children in line, what to draw attention to, various points of interest along the route, etc.

Adding to the festive atmosphere is music. The DiSalvos have Christmas songs continually playing on an endless loop from dusk until 10 or 11 at night. They can be heard from the street in any given weekend's bumper-to-bumper traffic, thanks to two very large speakers and a 250-watt amp.

Alas, countless bulb replacements later, sometime in the first week of Janurary, the power is turned off and everything is disassembled, checked and tested, then stored away.

Must cost a pretty penny to run all that electricity for six weeks during winter.

How expensive is it?

"Define 'expensive'? Depends on the person. When people ask me about it, my standard answer is 'Two little squirrels running in a cage and they generate electricity.' -- And if you believe that..."

Then you'll believe his short answer to "How much?"

"A nickel."

(All are file photos of DiSalvo family property on Fargo Road, Stafford, from 2010.)

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