Merry and Bright

How my family’s North York home reached Griswold levels of holiday cheer—for a good cause

My family has always gone crazy for Christmas. It started with my maternal grandparents, who would turn their whole house into a holiday village. I have photographs of me at six months old lying swaddled amid the Christmas figurines like baby Jesus. As I got older, my dad would take us on an annual tour, driving to Niagara Falls for the Winter Festival of Lights, then to Buffalo to ogle the dazzling houses. Then we’d go to Kmart and pick out blow-up Santas. Around Boxing Day, we’d go back to get more stuff on sale.

My mom usually starts planning the design for the coming season around Thanksgiving. The first year, it was a couple of strings of lights. Then it was four strings, and eventually it was the whole house. We used to go to Florida to celebrate the holidays, but our family traditions changed as the light show grew. By the time I was in high school, I was mortified at how much it had ballooned. My neighbours would say, “Oh, Angela’s my neighbour! That’s Angela’s house!” I’d say, “No it’s not,” and run inside.

Twenty years ago, the display got so elaborate that people started asking if there was an admission fee. I lived with juvenile diabetes as a child, and received treatment at the Hospital for Sick Children. The lights seemed like a great way to show my family’s appreciation for their care, so we began to collect donations in 1999. Since then, we’ve donated more than $200,000, and we call the display the De Sario Family Festival of Lights. Thousands of visitors come every year. On Christmas Day, you can’t get into my parents’ subdivision because of all the cars.

In 2016, my family was featured on the ABC show The Great Christmas Light Fight. When the episode aired, our relatives in Italy called to tell us they saw us on TV. My mom leaves a comment book outside for guests, and because of media coverage of my experience at Sick Kids, people still think I’m a child. They’ll write, “Please tell baby Angela to take care,” or leave me stuffed animals. I’m 40 years old now, and my brother Vincenzo is 36. I think he puts up one string of lights around his garage in London, Ontario, and I don’t even decorate my house in Kleinburg. Christmas is my parents’ house—that’s where we go to get in the spirit.

My dad is 72, and every year there’s talk of retiring the lights. Then Christmas comes along, and for the two months the house is decorated, my gruff and serious dad turns into an angel. He has grandkids now, and they turn on the lights together. It really brings out the children in my parents. It brings everybody home.