Exterior Decorating

D ecorating houses for the holidays is one tradition that hasn’t changed this pandemic season. In Hamden, 28 homeowners and counting—other festive residents can add their houses to the list—are sharing their holiday handiwork via the first annual Hamden Home Holiday Light Map, a project of the city’s Department of Arts and Culture.

We’re not just talking simple colored lights strung around trees and shrubbery, pretty as that may be. We’re also talking Christmas explosions with motorized lawn figures, projected falling snowflakes and electronic dripping icicles. We’re talking lots and lots of light.

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Among the houses on the tour is Jennifer Stephen and Mike DeFelice’s home on Anns Farm Road. In the past four years since moving in, their annual display has grown, and this year, because they signed up to be on the map, “of course it had to get a little bit bigger,” Stephen says. The couple’s five-year-old daughter, Piper, is “really into Christmas,” Stephen says, but the family tradition of decking the halls goes back to Mike’s childhood on Hill Street, where the pièce de résistance was Santa’s sleigh taking off from the roof. “There was a cable attached across the yard to a tree, and the reindeer were flying off the roof,” DeFelice says. “I haven’t figured that out yet.”

Driving between points on the Holiday Light Map, you’ll also catch many worthy displays not on the list. Among the most spectacular is a Whitney Avenue home in Spring Glen with red bows on every window and a colorfully lit tree that nearly rivals the one on the New Haven Green. A house on Woodin Street in the Hamden Plains neighborhood is packed from fence to fence with a veritable forest of illuminated reindeer, trees, Christmas characters, woodland animals, a four-tiered fountain and more. “I’m pretty sure you can see some of these from space,” my husband joked as we passed one high-voltage display.

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Our own drive happened on a cold night at the end of a very long day, but as we motored up and down Hamden’s back streets, a few of which I’d never visited before, I was cheered by the whimsy of these offerings and the enthusiasm of their owners. After a while, even ordinary traffic signals and the red caution lights atop Benham Road’s radio towers seemed pretty, not to mention Orion’s belt twinkling in the cloudless night sky.

Traffic is usually sparse these days, but take care as you cruise or pull aside to gawk. Hamden Arts and Culture asks that you “respect people’s personal property by staying in your car and viewing displays from the street.” If you’re hankering for more, you can start or finish your drive at the 26th annual Fantasy of Lights at Lighthouse Point Park, presented by Goodwill of Southern New England, which runs through New Year’s Eve.

Some people brought out their holiday lights back in March when quarantining began, evidence of the power of light in the darkness as more than just a metaphor. We’ve come a long way since then, but a little more light in a still-dark time just might bring you some comfort and joy.

And to give the jolly an extra jolt, here’s a list of unique items to seek and find among the displays on Hamden’s Holiday Light Map:

1. the Eiffel Tower
2. a mama goose and her goslings
3. a trio from a galaxy far, far away
4. a snowman counting the days, hours, minutes and seconds to Christmas
5. a giant peppermint in the window
6. a lit-up Little Library
7. a polka-dotted penguin
8. a mailbox offering express service to the North Pole
9. Santa in the house!
10. the Abominable Snowman
11. a penguin gone fishin’
12. Santa on the house!

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Photographed by Dan Mims.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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