NORWALK, Conn. – It was 43 degrees and Norwalk’s “Santa” was out in his yard, sweating.
Rick Setti was repositioning spotlights Thursday afternoon, determined to be ready for the traditional 5 p.m. Thanksgiving opening of Setti’s Christmas Village despite the obstacles he has faced for the second year in a row.
“Every year, Mother Nature throws us a few curve balls,” said Setti. “But this year was pretty bad; through a couple sliders in with them. The hurricane, other things.”
The front yard and the neighboring village were seemingly ready, both thickly decorated with the plywood characters that Setti creates to make Christmas bright for thousands of children. But Setti said he had put 130,000 Christmas lights up for the annual display that draws families from all around; Hurricane Sandy took down 90,000 of them.
“Took me five days to put back the lights in the front yard and the village and then the Nor’easter came and took about 50 percent of what I had put up down. I’m just playing catch-up now.”
In spite of that, the display promises to be bigger and better, as usual – Setti practically works year round to complete the visions he sees in his head, and this year is no different.
He says there are 80 new characters and two, possibly three, new sections. Last year there was one 12-foot high blow-up Santa; this year there are two, provided no one comes along and pilfers them. Last year there were 30 decorated Christmas trees on the property; this year there are 35, plus two others that are undecorated.
After the old gazebo in the back yard rotted, he took the remaining framework and created a patriotic area for his village, complete with red, white and blue lights, a star wreath and 13-star flag.
Last year, Setti tried to make an igloo out of Styrofoam blocks but gave up. This year, he completed a framework for the igloo, then friend Richard Scalise of Boat Connections shrink-wrapped it. Setti placed little penguins around it.
This year, he moved his manger from behind an oak tree to a terrace and populated it with figures he didn’t make but had coveted for decades: plywood cut-outs hand painted by priests and formerly displayed at Notre Dame Convalescent Home.
They hadn’t been displayed at the convalescent home for two years because there was no one to put them up, the Settis said. A nun at the home originally declined to sell them but reconsidered, accepting a $300 donation from the couple, they said.
“The first time I saw that thing 20 years ago I fell in love with it,” Setti said of the home’s manger.
He also moved the ice skating pond he made last year over to the new-last-year gazebo to emulate the circumstances in every old Christmas movie he has seen.
Setti also took 15 or 20 wire reindeer that seemed useless because their white lights didn’t work anymore and put colored lights on them
But the possibility of storms has altered his decorations, as the reindeer cut-outs he had thought of stringing on cables overhead are instead screwed into trees, lest they fall on people down below during a high wind.
Setti says he depends on volunteer hours put in by friends and family to get the show up and running. Plus, if not for handyman John Keifer, he’d be another five weeks behind, he said.
It’s all made worthwhile by the children who come to visit, the couple said, especially the families who come on Christmas Eve to sit on the Santa-suited Setti’s lap, no matter what the weather. But storms have Setti and his wife, both 70 years old, wondering when they might stop.
“I don’t like doing something twice,” Setti said. “It’s like Gen. Patton said: ‘I don’t like to fight for territory twice.’ Once I win it, that’s it.”
“We’re getting old,” said his wife, Joan. “This year did us in with these storms. Everything we did we had to start all over.”
Will this year – their 24th – be their last?
Both emphatically say, “No.”
“Gotta make a decision pretty soon, when to stop,” he said.
“If anything, it would be next year,” she said. “But we can’t really say that because every year he says that. He’ll say he’s not going to do it next year and then the kids come and sit on his lap and they talk to him. And he’ll say, ‘How can I stop it?’”
Setti’s Christmas Village is located at 6 Midwood Drive.