Christmas in April

The other day I was walking along Pelham Parkway in the North Bronx, a wide corridor connecting Bronx Park and Pelham Park (thus its full name, the Bronx and Pelham Parkway). Modest one- and two-family homes, attached and unattached, and the occasional modest apartment building, line the parkway and the streets radiating from it. No one was around but for the birds and squirrels, the occasional person biking by or walking a dog. It’s a quiet stretch, and it was a quiet afternoon in an entirely unassuming, unremarkable residential neighborhood. 

Then, at the corner of Westerveldt Avenue, I came upon a Christmas pageant, quietly biding its time in the most remarkable sort of way.

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There were scores and scores of figures artfully arranged along the grounds of the single-family house.

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Jesus was surrounded by his heavenly entourage.

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While the Virgin Mary (I think it’s Mary) supplicated them.

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They were joined by a battalion of cherubs and angels…

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…and, not surprisingly, a team of reindeer.

As I suspected, a house like this isn’t exactly a state secret. The Christmas House, as it is known in the neighborhood, has a website, and a facebook fan page; it has been written up in all the papers, and gets perennial mention as a seasonal attraction, a Bronx alternative to the blinding Xmas lights of Dyker Heights.

The Times reports that the Garabedian family has been mounting the display since 1974, as thanks to the lord after “something special happened to the family on Christmas Eve in 1973.” What that something special was the Garabedians prefer not to say.

In season, animated A-list mannequins—Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Nicole Kidman, Michael Jackson, and so forth—join the year-round figurines. The rest of the year, they spend inside. According to the family website, “Almost every inch of the Garabedian’s house is decorated with Disney characters and chicly-dressed dolls, many in floor-length gowns and most bejeweled and coiffed like Hollywood models.”

“The Christmas display,” says the family website, “is truly a family affair.”

“Only one brother, Michael, has married. The remainder of the family lives at home, working for the family fashion design business when they’re not helping Gary with the dolls used in the Christmas spectacular. For decades now, it has been Gary’s job to dress, repair and store each doll each year. Unbeknownst to many, the display is labor-intensive, as the main stage of the ornate production has to be dismantled each night and re-mounted each evening, weather permitting.”

Here’s some footage of what the spectacle looks like in season, courtesy of Gothamist.

The ornate production, according to the Daily News, once blacked out the lights along Pelham Parkway, but Con Ed has worked with the family over the years to provide them with the 800 amps they need (enough, according to my back of the envelope calculations, to fire up 1,600 sixty-watt bulbs).

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The Garabedians make the animated fiberglass figures themselves. It’s all their own handiwork, the molds, the painting, the costumes. “Some people think we are crazy and filthy rich. But really, we’re just religious people who work very hard,” Gary told the News. “The idea is that every time someone walks by they are in shock because the scene is perfect.”

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In April, even with the stars inside, the speakers unplugged, and the floodlights dark, there is something just right about the tableau. Maybe it’s the way the still, silent figures are lit up effortlessly by the afternoon sun.