Local sights — and Santa Claus, too — shine at Winter WonderFest exhibit
Winter Wonderfest is back with its drive-in exhibits at Hudson Fields, and some new but familiar scenes are part of the illuminated landscape.
William Bretzger, Delaware Newspaper
Bonfires crackle and cast an orange glow over the faces of the crammed families. A woman distributes steaming hot chocolate. Two children dressed as elves hop around the neighborhood, enjoying the bright lights.
And, of course, they can’t help but smile at the towering inflatables that include a fuzzy Grinch, a hula-dancing Santa, and a very festive Snoopy.
Maybe this writer has watched too many Hallmark Christmas movies, but the holiday magic is undeniable in this particular neighborhood behind Richard A. Shields Elementary School in Lewes.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Tracy Zigman stood in her driveway on Sussex Drive with neighbors Mike DiPaolo and Ed and Cathy Tessein. She explained that there is always a distinct sense of community in their neighborhood, but especially at this time of year.
“The parade lines up here, and Saturday night is our neighborhood,” she said. “We have bonfires and we always have food, and you know, you let people you don’t know use your bathroom.”
But last year they couldn’t do that. Neighbors continued to gather around socially distanced bonfires and crab feasts in 2020, but they could feel the void left by the many holiday activities canceled due to the pandemic.
So when two other community members came up with the idea for Lewes Lights — a holiday lights tour where homeowners and businesses could register their decorated homes — Zigman and his neighbors were immediately on board.
“Last year was so perfect because it was what I think everyone needed,” said Cathy Tessein.
Her husband Ed made a large light switch out of plywood, using an actual light switch cover to scale it. And on the opening night of the holiday lights tour, two elves helped him turn on the light, simultaneously illuminating many of the surrounding houses.
This avid craftsman and holiday decorator said he would set up lights and inflatables for the handful of kids in his neighborhood. But there’s also something special about welcoming the wider community.
“I loved it when the kids came over,” he said. “It made me feel like it was worth it.”
Mike DiPaolo described the Tesseans as honorary neighborhood grandparents and said they easily befriend even the youngest in the community. And the overall friendship between the neighbors — and even some holiday decorating competitiveness — was clear.
DiPaolo said his family puts up holiday decorations every year, but the organized Lewes Lights event and the enthusiasm of his neighbors certainly encouraged him to pick up a few extra lights this year.
He wasn’t alone either. Zigman, who volunteered with Lewes Lights last year and this year, said organizers had heard positive feedback from Lowe’s and Home Depot that the tour had seen strong demand for exhibits and holiday lights. .
Lewes Lights returns
Back this year, Lewes Lights officially began, and this time participation extended beyond the city limits to the Lewes postcode east of Route 1.
The organization is also introducing The Children’s Beach House as a new philanthropic partner, an especially important cause as the nonprofit’s fundraising continues to face pandemic-related challenges.
READ MORE: This popular holiday season tour is back. Here’s what’s new for Lewes Lights in 2021
Another revamped part of Lewes Lights in 2021 is the historic tour. DiPaolo, who is a longtime Lewes resident and former director of the Lewes Historical Society, will be recording historical accounts at some of the city’s sites and attaching these recordings to a special historical visit card. This way people can search for Christmas lights and learn about Lewes history as they go.
All maps are available at www.leweslights.org/map.
Although the tour includes a contest, Zigman said only about 20 percent of participants compete. It’s really about bringing people together and getting into the festive spirit, whatever holidays they’re celebrating.
“Anyone can do it, regardless of faith, so there are no boundaries at Lewes Lights,” she said. “For us, it was just a way to get together. We made a lot of bonfires and ate crabs together as a neighborhood. But somehow we could also bond with the community. large community.
For three kids from the Senators quarter, that’s holiday decorating.
Reed Knowlton, 10, said her family wanted to take part in Lewes Lights this year because “we just want to have fun and decorate”.
“And spread the joy!” added his younger brother, Graham, 7.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Reed, Graham and their friend Zane Freih completed some of the finishing touches, including adding shimmering gold arches to the back of the house that cyclists and walkers can see from the Junction & Breakwater trail.
Other decorations will include a large snowman up to 20 feet tall, blue and yellow lights to match the house siding, and a projector that will display Christmas trees or other holiday scenes.
Finding Christmas lights on the roads in their community has been a tradition for years, said Jacqueline Knowlton, Reed and Graham’s mother.
It was almost a competition, she said, to see who would spot the lights first and shout, “Christmas tree lights!” Christmas tree lights!”
Across Lewes on University Drive off Pilottown Road, Sue and Lee Sheats started a new tradition when they were swept up in the excitement of Lewes Lights last year.
Before the holiday lights tour began, the couple said they were keeping their holiday decorations to a minimum — likely a wreath and a few string lights at most. Then Lewes Lights inspired them to embark on a holiday decorating adventure.
It started with vintage snowman decorations they had found at an antique store in the Poconos, which led to a deep dive on Facebook Marketplace and a search for others throughout the area until until they develop a full theme and display.
Now the whole decorating process takes place over four weekends, and Sue Sheats said they decided they needed a map to remember how to design everything for each year.
“We went from zero to really this big,” she said with a laugh.
Having lived in this area for many years, the Sheats agreed that Lewes has really transformed into a quaint Christmas town over the years, and they enjoyed getting involved in all the Christmas activities.
“I really feel like the community has come together to support Lewes Lights,” Sue said, and Lee replied, “It sounds like something on the Hallmark Channel.”
They don’t see this new tradition disappearing anytime soon. In fact, they hope the lights — and the holiday spirit — will continue to spread throughout the community.
Emily Lytle covers Sussex County from inland towns to beaches. Got a story she should tell? Contact her at [email protected] or 302-332-0370. Follow her on Twitter at @emily3lytle.