File photo of Jim and Connie DiSalvos' property on Fargo Road, Stafford.
In a little more than 48 hours from now, the familiar and fantastic display of Christmas lights at the DiSalvos' property at 9180 Fargo Road in Stafford will blaze on after a year's hiatus.
In 2017, Jim and Connie took a break from the more than 20-year-old family tradition to take their grandkids to Disney World on a well-deserved holiday vacation.
And they vowed then they'd be back in 2018 bigger and better than ever. But thinking about it in the interim, they decided to change things up a bit, and concentrate more characters front and center at Swallowvale.
For the past few weeks, a team of helpers has removed the larger lighted characters altogether from the distant sides of their half mile of frontage road. These will be condensed -- three times the characters in half the space -- closer to the grand main house, built in 1842 with fieldstones and expanded in the 1950s.
"It's easier for us to maintain," Connie said. "We can just walk out front and not have to traipse up and down" on their 140+ acres.
Gone will be the 80-foot-long bleachers in a flat area that served as anchors for the scenic Alps and Village display and also all of the high-maintenance inflatables, which must be regularly "shaken" to keep snow from piling up on them.
Connie said they have given away the larger wooden structures, like the Alps and Village, which were labor-intensive, and found new home for them with neighbors. These also include the fireplace display and the gingerbread boy and girl. One of the display's new homes is on Shepard Road in Stafford.
The traditional of having Santa visit on Kids' Night (which was the second Tuesday night in December) has been passed, the DiSalvos said, to The Original Red Osier Landmark Restaurant, also in Stafford. The restaurant boasts its own stellar two-million-and-counting lights display during the holidays and a number of community give-back initiatives. Santa Claus will visit the Red Osier from 5 to 8 p.m. on two consecutive Mondays, Dec. 3 and 10. (Hot cocoa, Christmas cookies, roast beef sandwiches and more will be available to purchase from the outdoors food cart, and there will be horse and carriage rides.)
As ever at the DiSalvos, there will be the mind-boggling array of lights, with Christmas music piping out of speakers until 9 p.m. each evening, starting at 5-ish on Thanksgiving afternoon through sometime Jan. 2 of the new year.
Then everything is disassembled and the lights tested and boxed and put away for next year.
When it all starts over again, a team of five people will work 40 hours a week from mid-September until the big switch on Thanksgiving Day to make the magic happen.
"It's such a joy -- seeing people enjoy the displays, busloads of scouts, the elderly, children from the School for the Blind, the disabled," Connie said. "We've had many proposals take place here, and a couple of weddings."
One memorable proposal came when a serviceman dropped to bended knee by the wooden arch near the snowy driveway, and simultaneously plugged in an extension cord, which lit a sign that said "Abby will you marry me?" The bride said yes.
Another serviceman and his fiancee, who both visited Swallowvale as children at Christmastime, returned one year and asked permission to get married there.
A wedding was to take place by the stonewall in front when the weather became too inclement and the bride's dress was in danger of becoming muddy, so the DiSalvos invited the nuptial party inside. A roaring fire in the living room took off the chill and bottles of wine were brought up from the wine cellar so all could toast the bride and groom.
The sheer electrical spectacle that has made the DiSalvos' a regional must-see requires 30 boxes of extension cords -- about 500 them -- to plug everything together. Power is provided from five metered areas -- electrical services (each akin to the usage of one household) with about two miles of underground cables; with the efficiency of LED lights, two to three metered services will be used for less money.
Can't be cheap to operate. But as per usual, Jim DiSalvo won't say how much it costs, just looks at you directly and says something about a couple of mice running on a wheel to generate the juice.