Throw in some fuzzy red outfits and a few elves, and Diane and Jon Lizotte could be Santa and Mrs. Claus.
They’re not portly and nobody drives a sleigh, but they ARE jolly and there’s no denying the level of their Christmas spirit. Take a ride past their Baird Avenue home in Lewiston and you might think your GPS gave you a bum turn, sending you straight to the North Pole.
“I’m a big kid at heart,” says Jon, a retired fireman who strung up north of 12,000 lights this year and considers it less extreme than usual.
But not just blinking lights. There’s also the pathway lined with giant glowing lollipops. And the 8-foot Santa, the elves climbing a rope ladder toward the roof and yes, the mammoth Homer Santa who appears to be peeing from the roof of the garage. The main effect for that is a long stretch of yellow rope lights dropping from the roof to the driveway.
Jon squirms and grins when asked about it.
“My wife says, ‘You’ll scar the kids!'” Jon says. “But the kids love it.”
Apart from that humorous flair, the Lizotte household is pure Christmas tradition. The eaves, dormer included, glow with white icicle lights from one end to the other. Every tree in the yard is festooned and familiar Christmas characters — the Santas, the snowmen, the reindeer — are everywhere. The largest Christmas tree plays a variety of holiday music nonstop into the night.
In the Lizotte yard, Jon’s skill as a handyman are apparent at once. There are no uneven rows of lights and it appears not a single bulb has quit the job.
“He’s a jack-of-all-trades,” Diane says.
“Well,” Jon says, hooking a thumb toward his wife. “I’ve got my foreman right there behind me.”
The Lizottes spent three weeks decorating their home, fitting it in around eight funerals in two months, snowstorms and sicknesses. The thought of NOT decorating big this year just never occurred to them.
“We’ve been doing this since we bought the house in 1999,” Jon says. “I decorated where we used to live, in Mechanic Falls, but out there it was the outskirts of town. Nobody saw it.”
People see this one. Even on a rainy Tuesday night, people were pulling their cars to the side of Baird Avenue to enjoy the display. Kids stared wide-eyed from back seats.
Business as usually in front of the Lizotte home this time of year.
“People will stop and holler, ‘Hey, very nice’ or, ‘It’s so pretty.’ We’ll sit here and see flashes go off as they take pictures,” Jon says. “A few years back, we got a limo tour out there. The limo would stop and people would hoot and holler. They’d be out the windows or up through the top taking pictures and all of that.”
You might wonder if neighbors are irked by the sudden flurry of traffic on the normally quiet street between Lisbon and Pleasant. Wonder no more because those neighbors are part of the show. Their kids go to Jon’s house to help him at decorating time. The adults throw holiday parties and Jon, always playful, shows up dressed as Santa.
“I crashed one party across the street,” Jon says. “They asked me, ‘Does Santa Claus want a drink?’ And I said, ‘Does a reindeer s*** in the woods?'”
Like others who decorate over the top for Christmas, Jon and Diane are hard to pin down on their motivations. Maybe they do it for their 20 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Maybe they do it because with the very concept of Christmas falling under attack around the country, someone needs to stand up for the holiday. Somebody needs to do it old-school.
Not that it’s ever the same two years in a row, mind you.
“We go with different themes. It depends on what mood hits,” Jon says. “We buy some new stuff every year.”
“When it’s on sale,” Diane quickly reminds him.
“Yeah,” Jon agrees. “We wait until after Christmas to get the sales. I’ve got a garage full of stuff. We rotate around.”
If the outside of the Lizotte home is the North Pole, inside it’s Santa’s workshop. This is Diane’s domain and she puts in as much effort as Jon does on the other side of the door. Every inch of the living room is decorated, with soft lights, garland, a full-sized tree and several miniature trees and various Christmas knickknacks, each with its own story.
Inside the Lizotte house is pure tradition.
“Look out for that,” Jon says. He points to a small plant hanging in the doorway between living room and kitchen. Mistletoe, the iconic berried plant that has been compelling kisses for generations.
On Christmas Day, the Lizotte household will be abuzz with Christmas spirit, with all those kids and grandkids running amok and with friends and family coming and going.
On Baird Street, the Lizottes resist the runaway political correctness that threatens so many long-standing traditions.
“In this house it’s Merry Christmas,” Jon says. “It’s not Happy Holidays.”
Old-school vs. high-tech
If the Lizottes decorate old-school, on the other side of the city, Chris Forgues has gone high-tech.
Before he strings up a single light on his Theresa Avenue home, Forgues uses computer software to try out a few different configurations. With a photo of his house loaded onto the computer, he can see how things will look in the real world.
Pretty handy when you’re trying to outdo a neighbor.
“My parents live two houses down,” Forgues says. “It started to turn into a little bit of a competition.”
That competition was a yearly tradition until something happened to stack the deck in Forgues’ favor. He won a controller system in a contest, enabling him to run the whole spectacular display, music included, through a computer system.
“That’s always running the show,” Forgues said. “That’s what hooked us, and every year we get a little more into it.”
Right in the middle of Theresa Avenue — an area that hums with Christmas spirit — Forgues’ decorations seem just a bit more lavish than the others. Everything runs through 650 feet of electrical cords and 64 circuits timed to songs in 10th-of-a-second increments. On the computer, the array of holiday songs are listed in an Excel sheet.
Sounds complicated, right?
“It’s simple enough where the kids do it,” Forgues says. “My wife has programmed songs. We all program songs.”
Theresa is a short street between Central and East Avenues. It’s a neat and friendly neighborhood, but unless you happen to live there, you probably don’t pass through the area very often. That’s troublesome if you happen to have an extravagant Christmas display you’d like to show off.
“We do this because we love it,” Forgues says, “but we also want other people to enjoy it.”
So he tries to get the word out any way he can and apparently, it’s having an effect. When the Sun Journal put out a query on Christmas decorations, several people wrote in to recommend Forgues’ stunning work.
Which is not to say it can’t be made better.
Forgues’ daughter, 9-year-old Abby, says she’d like to start preparing cocoa and snacks to bring out to the people who stop to enjoy the display — the people they know, for starters.
And Forgues himself feels like decorations ought to be something more than just a display to fill the season with fun and light.
“Our ultimate goal,” he says, “is to turn this into a fundraiser of some kind.”
He thought about asking for donations of clothes to be turned over to people in need. Or perhaps he’ll set up a donation box and collect funds for a local pantry or shelter.
With the spectacular display running mostly on auto pilot, he has time to ruminate and plan his fundraiser. He’s also throwing around the idea of asking his neighbors to get their lights onto the computer, a step toward synchronizing the whole neighborhood.
Although, you have to be careful with an idea like that. With several houses on Theresa Avenue already brilliantly decorated, Forgues runs the risk of being dethroned as the neighborhood’s King of Christmas.
The inside scoop on Christmas decorations
While we extol the gasp-inspiring joy of an outdoor Christmas display, we musn’t forget those who prefer to do it up big on the inside.
To say that Bruce Geoffroy hangs his stocking by the chimney with care is putting it mildly.
Inside his 1940s home on South Main Street in Auburn are 21 themed Christmas trees, a manger in every room, a room full of Santas and another packed with snowmen. Even the two bathrooms are decorated.
The holiday adventure at Geoffroy’s home begins in the dooryard, but the real wow happens when you step inside: It’s utterly Christmas from floor to ceiling and in every available corner.
“I don’t miss a nook,” Geoffroy says. “Or a cranny.”
He begins decorating on Thanksgiving Day with the help of his wife, whom he calls his little elf, and his nephew, whose name, of course, is Noel.
How does he do it? And why?
“My Christmas display is a lifelong collection — I am 58 years old — passed on to me by family and friends and acquired through yard sales, church fairs, and thrift shops and Christmas shops,” Geoffroy says.
“My house is known as the home for wayward Christmas decorations,” he said. Family and friends have been known to leave decorations at my door, knowing they would be in good hands. In fact, I just acquired my grandmother’s Italian, hand-painted plaster Nativity dating from the late ’50s early ’60s because my relatives knew I would take good care of it.”
Dominating Geoffroy’s living room is Big Bertha, the main Christmas tree that features 800 LED lights, two kinds of garland, 60 candles and bows and 400 blown-glass ornaments.
A tour of Geoffroy’s home is dazzling. Already, he’s had 60 people come through for open houses and Christmas parties. If they didn’t arrive with the Christmas spirit, they surely left that way.
Cal Brown can relate. He took a break from decorating and told us why he and his wife are compelled each year to turn their Litchfield home into a Christmas wonderland.
“My wonderful wife, Gale, loves her decorations and builds them around themes such as our dining room which has all flying things, as in birds and angels,” Cal says. “She has exquisite taste. There is one new shelf this year that is yet to be finished as decorations took on a new life and there wasn’t enough space to display them. This group is hand-carved by a Richmond artist and has more than 25 years of his carvings. It’s the Wally Trott shelf and hopefully will get a coat of paint after the holidays.”
He added, “I get to be the grunt, toting storage boxes down from the attic. Lots of them. Christmas decorations, down. The other 11 months of items up. I don’t mind. It helps keep off a few of those extra calories that get added on during the season. I get to go up and down the stairs a lot of times. When an elevator becomes necessary, it will end. For now, my work is done until mid-January.”