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Christmas Lights at Casa del Pomba

Deacon Dave's elaborate display of Christmas lights draws thousands of visitors every year.

Deacon Dave's Christmas has been lighting up a neighborhood in Livermore, Calif., for more than 21 seasons. Jeanie Haigh acts as the coordinator for Deacon Dave Rezendes and says Dave considers the display a gift to the community.

"Deacon Dave started the elaborate displays the year he was ordained a Deacon in the Catholic Church. His family has always loved Christmas, and this is his gift to the community," she says. "The home he lives in was his grandmother's, and she loved to dress as Mrs. Claus around the holidays."

While he has help with the display, including a design team of seven and volunteer construction helpers, Dave himself comes up with a theme each year for the display. The theme for 2002 was "Ice Castle" and featured a 26-foot tall icy palace and two working waterfalls.

"We start planning the next year's display before we finish the current year's," says Jeanie. "The first real planning meeting is held in late spring. Some props are worked on year-round, and the actual building construction begins the weekend before Labor Day, in August."

The theme for 2003 is "North Pole Flight Training Center" and includes a flying reindeer, flight control tower complete with radar dish and more than 230,000 lights.

"This year we'll have about five animated scenes," Jeanie says. "When we animate, we like to do something different, not just something spinning. So it takes a lot of engineering to get things to work according to our vision, taking into account the weather since it's all outdoors."

Opening day is usually the first Saturday of December and is an event worthy of such a luminous display.

"All the lights are off, and a candlelight procession with a choral group comes down the street," Jeanie says. "Deacon does a blessing of the lights, and the theme is revealed. The theme is always a secret until we open. Each light symbolizes a prayer for peace. Then, the lights come on totally. It's always breathtaking."

By the time the power is turned off for the season on the night of Jan. 1, Jeanie estimates that approximately 60,000 visitors will come through to admire the display.

She said the utility company had to install an industrial transformer across the street a couple of years ago. "We now have 400 amps coming in, double what a normal household has. And we use just about all of them."

While admission is free and Dave picks up the tab for the display, including the power bill, he does accept donations for a local community program.

"All money collected goes to Santa's Secret Service, a program that has been around in Livermore for over 40 years. The program provides Santa, carolers and gifts to area nursing homes, shelters and so on at no charge," Jeanie says. "All the expenses for the display are paid by Deacon and the volunteers."

The effort is also personally fulfilling for Jeanie, and has even helped at least one visitor find a home.

"Seeing everyone coming through and enjoying the display, appreciating the work involved, and leaving with a sense of happiness and peace makes it worthwhile. I know that sounds corny, but it really warms the heart to see someone who has been depressed, lonely or down on their luck come through and feel hope.

"We have many stories our visitors have shared. One lady was living in her car with her son, and they came through every night because it was an escape. She finally left us a message telling us their story. We were able to help her with Christmas presents and eventually hooked her up with housing and a job."

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