Is Christmas really just for one day? For many more of us than we might like to admit, Christmas is something of a chore. What we are supposed to celebrate as advent, we simply deal with instead in rushes to and from work, whilst at the same time attempting to balance shopping and surprise gift giving to people we won’t actually see on the big day. Christmas never used to be like this though. Christmas never used to be just one day on a calendar, peppered either side with quiet hopes that we haven’t missed anybody important off our respective Christmas card lists. Rather, Christmas used to be an annual extravaganza of fun and an ultimately magical kind of mayhem.
Enter then Joe DiMartino. I first came to know about Joe DiMartino a few years ago when I heard of a one of a kind Christmas installation complete with animated figurines. The only thing was, this installation wasn’t the then center of attention of any Christmas themed store front on Madison Avenue. Rather, this magical miniature Christmas wonderland was installed just like it no doubt will be this Christmas, around a corner on a quiet street in the furthest southern corner of Staten Island. But who was Joe DiMartino? And why had he gone to such lengths to create something so remarkable?
After meeting Joe personally, I discovered that extravagant Christmas displays and decorations had been a staple of his childhood as he grew up in Brooklyn. Injecting art and real Christmas spirit into Joe’s family’s preparations for the holiday season, was something which for all of Joe’s childhood, had been inalienable from the holiday season itself.
As an adult then, Joe DiMartino had decided to carry on his family tradition, regardless of the time or expense he would have to go to each year to create a little piece of the North Pole, right outside his home on Staten Island. Moreover, the result of Joe’s seasonal commitment to spread good will about his neighborhood is nothing short of incredible.
However, Joe’s passion for turning his little corner of Staten Island into a phantasmagoria of Christmas spirit each year, isn’t just about him carrying on family tradition. In 2001, Joe’s wife Debra Ann DiMartino, was tragically killed in the then September 11th terror attacks on the World Trade Center. Spiritual darkness and depression thus loomed. What after all, was the point? Moreover, how could Joe and his surviving family ever find the strength to carry on their Christmas tradition in light of the appalling loss which they had just suffered?
Joe didn’t stay down for long though. Instead of focusing on his and his young daughters hurt, he focused instead on the hurt his wife Debra would feel, if she was able to see them disbanding so absolutely from something which had used to bring them so close together each year. This being the case, Joe decided not just to light up the neighborhood as usual that Christmas, but for the first time to make his house grounds open for free to anyone who might want to come and experience the magic of Joe’s Christmas wonderland themselves.
The result? As well as visiting the World Trade Center memorial each year in order to pay their respects, Joe, his daughters, and his new wife Marisa, make a point of adding each year to their free to experience Christmas wonderland. Free to visit, and with more people arriving each and every year, Joe DiMartino’s own personal Christmas experience is a steady glowing beacon of Christmas as it should be for everyone. The only question is, will you be visiting this year? And if not, what will you be doing instead to really celebrate and spread a little Christmas cheer other than just shopping?