Lighting the Way to Joy
It is said that Christmas season has a way of making the sanest, most sedate of adults turn into giddy children..Written and photographed by George Gurtner
That certainly is true all over Jefferson Parish.
Take Joey Attardo, for instance. When he was 14, he set out to find his first job. He found it at the Christmas Village on Veterans Memorial Boulevard. Attardo is 41 today and he’s still at Christmas Village. In fact, he now owns this ultimate boutique for Christmas decorations. With a seasonal staff of 25 hitting the streets seven days a week, he’s turning everyday houses into “Christmas paradises.”
“People are really getting into Christmas with decorating their homes more and more elaborately,” Attardo says. “We work with them on anything they want. They give us a budget and a theme they may have in mind. We meet them at their front door in the morning, they give us the keys to their house, they go to work and when they come home in the evening…they have a bright Christmas house, all decorated and the envy of the neighborhood. After Christmas, the process is reversed. We go in, take everything down and remove it. When the residents come home from work, it’s back to the way it was before Christmas.”
“It’s an incredible time of the year,” says Karen Brown, who tells how the families along a two-block stretch of Massachusetts Street in Kenner light the whole neighborhood every year. She explains that residents decorate houses, front lawns and sidewalks “so Santa will know right where to come!”
And everybody agrees, the flame on the Massachusetts Street. Christmas candle is Brown’s 80-year-old dad, Sam Barbara. A Kenner businessman by day, he dons a full Santa Claus outfit, replete with snow white hair and beard, to hand out candy and other Christmas goodies to sightseers.
“Old?” Barbara asks with a look of amazement. “During Christmas time who’s old? This is what being a kid is all about. It’s why we decorate. As long as my health holds out, I’ll never miss a year.”
Likewise, Mrs. Norman Babin hasn’t missed a year since she and her late husband moved into their home on the corner of Melody Drive and West Esplanade Avenue in 1972. “From the beginning, we would begin decorating the day after Thanksgiving,” Babin says. “All of the children were told to take that day off from work and help with the decorating. It was—and still is—a big family affair.”
Babin jokes that their children were warned that if they didn’t show up to help with the decorating, “they’d be cut out of the will! I’m just joking of course, but the kids knew it was a family tradition.”
When Mr. Babin passed away in 2009, the Babin children had a banner made to add to the elaborate display that covers most of the house and yard: This Christmas display is dedicated to the memory of Norman J. Babin (1928-2009). In his honor we continue this tradition.
“When I saw that banner for the first time, I cried and cried,” Babin says. “I knew how much decorating this home meant to Norman…and how much it meant to us. And I knew I’d do this for as long as I live. I see people bringing their children to see the display who came when they themselves were children. I know I can never stop doing this. It brings so much joy.”
A few blocks away, Jack Siciliano, floral manager for the decorating emporium, Gordon’s of Metairie, is awash in a forest of pinks, purples and lime greens.
“Red and green are still the primary Christmas colors,” Siciliano says as he wraps an outdoor garland of golds and bronze. “But today this are becoming more and more whimsical, more childlike…you see all these lime greens and pinks. It’s like a child’s fantasy land. Bronze and gold and brown are also high on the list for indoor and outdoor decorating. And more and more people are decorating these days.”
So many more, in fact, that Siciliano’s decorating talents have been booked solid since September. “Wreaths, outdoor lighting, indoor lighting…” Siciilano’s hand sweeps around the Metairie store to highlight the massive display of Christmas decorations. “People can come here and find just about anything they want to decorate,” he says. “And it seems to me they’re doing that more this year than ever before.” ◗