A Gift to the Community

When the kids were young, Joe and Julie Billitti’s Christmas decorations consisted of the standard store-bought Christmas lights going across the front of the house. Through the years the decorated house was a work in progress, culminating in the magnificent display it is today—a big production set to music. The whole family helps now, including the children, Monica, 17, Scott, 13, and Aimee, 11.

The first creative addition to the Billitti’s Christmas canvas was a giant star, whose lights blazed from the rooftop. Ropes held it in place, but one year the star toppled over, broke, and took a few roof tiles with it. Steel cables now keep the star secure. A teaching lesson.

Now in the rhythm of Christmas decorating, Joe expanded his horizons. Six years ago he bought a six-plug music box to enhance his light and figure display. Now he has 18 plugs and an extra circuit breaker just for the decorations. He monitors the 60 amps of power, recalling a house that caught fire years ago on a street where all the houses were decorated.

He doesn’t feel obsessed yet but admits that the December display is always on his mind. His desire to make it bigger and better took him to eBay one year where a 21-foot industrial Christmas tree caught his eye. He went to Escondido to see it “in the flesh,” and the seller, a former owner of a Christmas supply shop, set it up for Joe. It was love at first sight! With the lights starting far above and cascading down the pole, the “silhouette tree” was impressive. It was even more so when it adorned the Billitti roof. “If bought new, it would have cost $4,000!” Joe says enthusiastically.

The annual project is fun, but it’s a lot of work. Checking and replacing broken pieces and burnt out bulbs are always the first tasks in each year’s construction.

A heartfelt touch is part of the scene each year when the giant Santa Claus and reindeer team Julie’s father built 20 years before joins the merriment on the Billitti lawn. The wooden structure has weathered many seasons now, and it’s due for a paint job next year, courtesy of Monica, Joe’s number one assistant.

When Joe discovered he could digitalize the musical scene outside using a laptop computer, Christmas decorating became “amazing,” according to the creator. Being considerate of the neighbors, he keeps the music low and turns it off before 8 pm. People walking by can hear it; those driving by can hear it on their car radios by tuning into 106.9.

One of the offshoots of the Billitti Christmas spectacular is that it has strengthened neighborhood ties. Tables are set up across the street where neighbors can watch the changing scene while enjoying hot cider and cocoa. Someone might bring a portable fire pit.

They know Joe’s schedule. He starts decorating a week before Thanksgiving and turns on the lights the Sunday after. “I love neighborhood stuff!” Joe says.

The Christmas decorating also generates warm feelings from strangers. People thank him for putting on the Christmas display, and once a car full of kids going by yelled out the window, “We love your Christmas set up!” Joe tells of a man walking his dog past the house one July who told him how much he liked the Christmas display. “Imagine!” said Joe, pleased. “July…so long after Christmas!”

Taking things down isn’t as much fun as putting them up. “The expectation of what you’re going to see is not there when you are putting things away.” He stores some of the items in the top of his garage and had a shed built to hold the rest of the decorations. Two years ago Joe began putting up a Halloween display, set to music, of course. Monica was with him, on the job. “That’s just practice for Christmas,” Julie says, laughing. “It may sound corny,” Joe says, “but it’s our gift to our neighbors.”

The Billittis invite you to see their Christmas display at 10888 Elderwood Lane. It will be up until New Year’s.

Elinor Reiss