“The Great Christmas Light Fight,” the ABC holiday decor competition, launches its fifth season Monday at 8 p.m. with four families from across the nation, including married couple Peter Tomasello and Drew Jordan of Ronkonkoma.
Since buying their house at 135 North Huron St. in 2014, the two have carried on Tomasello’s childhood family tradition of spectacular displays. Life-size Santas? Check. Nutcrackers, snow people, candles? Check. Interactive animatronics with dancing lights and a musical performance by Elsa from “Frozen”? Check. A second such lawn display with a custom-sculpted Lucy from “Peanuts” in her psychiatrist booth, advising Charlie Brown in the recorded voice of the actress used for Hallmark’s 2016 talking Lucy plush doll?
Check. Or rather, wow.
That “Peanuts” display “was brand-new for this year,” says Tomasello, 40, an automotive electrician at Sound Waves Car Stereo in Mastic. “We tried to get the girl who did Lucy’s voice in the 2015 movie[“The Peanuts Movie”], and we got the girl who did the Hallmark doll, Brooklyn Funk, who was happy to do it.” And in the spirit of the season, “I offered to pay her and she wouldn’t take any money from me.”
That might be because one reason for the display — which perennially attracts families who can give their kids a half-hour to 45-minute interactive experience — is to raise funds for and awareness of the Autism Society of America. A close friend’s daughter, Tomasello recalls somberly, had died before her third birthday. “Her brother is autistic and had a hard time understanding what happened to his sister,” he says. “That’s why we chose that particular charity.”
As well, the young girl’s love of “Frozen” inspired the display’s “Let It Go” show, one of three productions this year. “We have a mechanical Elsa on a stage who sings [the hit song from the 2013 animated film]. It’s lit up as a static display, and when a person goes to press the button, [a sensor makes] the display go black. Then, when they hit the button, the stage show starts. Like in the movie, she starts spinning out the powers from her hand and it starts frosting everything — the house and property, everything turns to sparkling white lights that look like ice.”
Tomasello, who was born and raised in Ronkonkoma and attended Connetquot High School in Bohemia, got his start in holiday displays as a youngster, creating them at his parents’ home on Shelter Road. “Every time my grandparents would give me money for Christmas, instead of buying G.I. Joes I went to stores and got half-off Christmas decorations,” he says. “After I grew up, I started buying every Christmas decoration I could.” And those that didn’t exist, he had custom-made by Los Angeles artist and prop maker Natalie Knudsen and Lou Nasti’s Mechanical Displays in Brooklyn.
As an adult, Tomasello lived in apartments and put his displays on hold until he and New Jersey native Jordan, 30, a Delta flight attendant and Dowling College graduate he married in October, bought their current home, specifically because “we thought it looked like a gingerbread house,” says Tomasello. “So, basically, we bought a house for our Christmas decorations.”
Inevitably, “We had a lot of people saying, ‘You should go on the show.’ We’d never even thought of it. So we tried out in 2015 for season four and we didn’t make it on. They said they loved the house but to try again next year. So we added a lot more stuff and got the green light for season five.”