Lewes Lights inspires residents to think big with Christmas decorations
Local sights – and Santa too – shine at Winter WonderFest
Winter Wonderfest is back with its drive-through displays at Hudson Fields, and a few new but familiar scenes form part of the bright landscape.
William Bretzger, Delaware News Journal
The bonfires crackle and cast an orange glow on the faces of the families huddled together. A woman hands out steaming hot chocolate. Two children dressed as elves walk 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.
âThe parade lines up here, and Saturday night is our neighborhood,â she said. âWe have bonfires and we always have food outside, and you know, you let people you don’t know use your bathroom. ”
But then, last year, they couldn’t do that. Neighbors continued to gather around bonfires and socially distant 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 save their decorated homes – Zigman and his neighbors immediately agreed.
âLast year was so perfect because it was what everyone, I think, needed,â said Cathy Tessein.
Her husband Ed made a large light switch out of plywood, using a real light switch cover to scale it. And on the opening night of the Holiday Light Tour, a few elves helped him turn on the light, illuminating many surrounding houses at once.
The avid vacation craftsman and decorator said he would install lights and inflatables for the handful of kids right in his neighborhood. But there is also something special about welcoming the community at large.
âI loved it when the kids came by,â he says. “It made me feel like it was worth it.”
Mike DiPaolo described the Tesseins as the neighborhood’s honorary grandparents and said they easily befriended even the youngest in the community. And the overall friendship between neighbors – and even some competitiveness in holiday decorating – was clear.
DiPaolo said his family will install holiday decorations every year, but the Lewes Lights event and the enthusiasm of his neighbors have certainly encouraged him to purchase a few more lights this year.
He wasn’t alone either. Zigman, who volunteered with Lewes Lights last year and this year, said organizers have heard positive comments from Lowe’s and Home Depot that the tour has generated a high demand for exhibits and lights festivals.
Lewes Lights returns
Back this year, Lewes Lights officially kicked off and this time the participation extended beyond the city limits to the Lewes postcode east of Route 1.
The organization is also highlighting The Children’s Beach House as a new philanthropic partner, a particularly important cause as the non-profit organization’s fundraisers continue to face challenges related to the pandemic.
READ MORE: This popular light-up holiday 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 long-time Lewes resident and former director of the Lewes Historical Society, will record historical accounts of some of the town’s sites and attach those recordings to a special historical business card. This way people can search for Christmas lights and learn more about Lewes’ story as they go.
All maps are available at www.leweslights.org/map.
Although the tour included a competition, Zigman said about 20% of the participants were in competition. It’s really about bringing people together and getting into the festive spirit, whatever holidays they’re celebrating.
âAnyone can do it, no matter what their faith, so there are no boundaries in Lewes Lights,â she said. âFor us, it was just a way to get together. We used to have a lot of bonfires and eat crabs together as a neighborhood. But one way or another, we could bond with the larger community as well.
For three children from the Senators district, this is the very essence of holiday decoration.
Reed Knowlton, 10, said her family wanted to participate in Lewes Lights this year because “we just want to have fun and decorate.”
âAnd 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 glittering golden 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 siding of the house, and a spotlight that will display Christmas trees or other holiday scenes.
Finding Christmas lights on the roads around their community has been a tradition for years, said Jacqueline Knowlton, mother of Reed and Graham.
It was almost a contest, she said, to see who would spot the lights first and yell, “Christmas tree lights!” Christmas tree lights! “
Across Lewes, on University Drive near Pilottown Road, Sue and Lee Sheats started a new tradition when they got caught up in the excitement of Lewes Lights last year.
Ahead of the start of the holiday lights tour, the couple said they kept their holiday decorations to a minimum – likely a wreath and a few fairy lights at most. Then Lewes Lights inspired them to embark on a vacation decorating adventure.
It all started with vintage snowman decorations they found at a Poconos antique store, which led to a deep dive into the Facebook Marketplace and a search for other items in the area until what they develop a theme and a full display.
Now the whole decorating process takes place over four weekends, and Sue Sheats said they’ve decided they need a card to remember how to design everything for each year.
âWe went from zero to really that big,â she said with a laugh.
Having lived in this area for many years, the Sheats agreed that Lewes has truly turned into a quaint Christmas town over the years, and they have enjoyed getting involved in all Christmas activities.
âI really think the community has come together to support Lewes Lights,â Sue said, and Lee added, âIt sounds like something on Hallmark Channel.â
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 to tell? Contact her at [email protected] or 302-332-0370. Follow her on Twitter at @ emily3lytle.