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Visit to a Christmas House lit with lights in Novato, California

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The Portuguese immigrant who lives with fame in his home town Novato, California (population 50,000), a city 25 miles north of San Francisco has the name Edmundo Rombeiro. His claim to fame is the way he says, Merry Christmas to all and peace to men of Good will each year. For 22 years this remarkable man, an American, decks his home and lights it like a Christmas tree for the joy of neighbors, visitors adult and children alike. Of course, not everyone is enamored of his style, his taste, his lighting his home to the tune of an electric bill costing $1,500 a month on Devonshire Drive in the more affluent community where homes are valued at $650,000.

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In a telephone conversation, the creator and owner of the Christmas House, Mr. Rombeiro told me, “I got the Christmas spirit in my heart. In the Azores I watched my mother and my father make the nativity scene and really enjoyed it…All the lights….When I came to the United States …and started decorating in 1980 and (just) a couple of years later started decorating. I decorated $4000 or $5000 (worth of work) …. Every year (we have been) adding new stuff.

“Christmas is one of the best holidays for me. My daughter and I are the two main decorators. We give Christmas to the community. We give it to thousands of people in the whole community.

“Last year we had 18 or 19 tour buses for the entire year (come from San Francisco’s Bay Area). This year we had about 10 tour buses for the year. We feel very happy to see people smiling.”

In 2005 The San Francisco Chronicle touted a story on the man and his family’s work at the Christmas Season and this quote from the story titled, Merry glitzmas / With 80,000 lights and rooms of displays, the Rombeiros deck their Novato house into a ho, ho, home for the holidays. Written by Alex Horvath; the article is found here.

As The Chronicle writer Horvath explains, “Rombeiro's passion for Christmas began as a boy growing up on Sao Miguel, the largest island in the Azores. Raised as a Catholic, his family celebrated "Little Christmas" on Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany and the traditional day of gift exchange in the Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking world. The Rombeiros still celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6, which is why they keep their house open on Dec. 25.”

In this article the reader will find a paraphrase statement in fewer than 500 words by the Mayor of Novato who explains something of that city’s Seasonal practices, and it has its attractions of the Season. He says (and this is a paraphrase of his remarks) when speaking of the spirit of the City: The Romberios have been putting together their [plentiful and magnificent Christmas lighted] house over 20 years. People come… from Novato and all over the place. People from outside the area come…. It’s a local family putting together this [fabulous extravagantly lighted house].

[In Novato,] we’re always engaged by giving in the spirit [at this time of year]…it’s part of our culture as a city to go big and celebrate. One of our unique characteristics…It makes people happy to know they are being happy and gives them joy. It’s a joy of the season when people tend to be more giving, even though people tend to do the retail madness. Even though there’s the push for consumerism.

When it comes to local press and even word-of-mouth-area-attention from even more than 100 miles away, for while we visited the Christmas House, as it is called, to talk with Mr. Rombeiro and see him light the place at 6 p.m. after the sun set at 5:30 p.m. to get the effect of after dark lighting, he told us tour buses numbering five had come just that week to visit bringing visitors. But again, just this year again the local newspaper ran a story about the Christmas House and headlined this 2013 in December, Marin homes light up the holidays with over-the-top Decorations. The story can be found here. As the reader can understand, there is something excessive about the extravaganza of lights on Mr. Rombeiro’s house. The house looks magical—a magical Christmas land with music playing. And all this is what draws children to it like a magnet as they approach, walking up the street’s sidewalk with their mother and father towards it to get to visit the yard and the magically magnificent overdone and stuffed interior. That “Marin Independent Journal” article written By Janis Mara quoted Mr. Rombeiro: "’This is a beautiful time for me,’ said Edmundo Rombeiro. ‘I am proud that so many people come to see our home. We want to share the joy of Christmas with everyone.’" (Contact Janis Mara via email at jmara@marinij.com )

When talking with Mr. Rombeiro in his house this Religion Writer found that quote Janis Mara gave a true and seminal one for the man of the Christmas House who dresses as Santa in a Red Suit each night and talks to the children and parents in his practiced and skilled, even, way giving joy and love. He truly offers his home with its overdone and glitzy lighting so magically compelling and unusually special each evening to share the joy of Christmas!!

Terry Peck, photographer and architect, along with this Religion Writer’s assistant Linda Shirado were the three who approached the house initially while the sun still stood towards the end of day. We arrived in Linda’s 2002 Mercury Sable finding a parking place easily at this hour. Later it would not be so easy on the suburban street, but still possible.

We took a look at the house, and it seemed bigger than it was to this Religion Writer. It had a lot of stuff on it—figures of different kinds and colors. Later the lights would make it all the more special. Even in the daylight, frankly, all of us were a little intimidated by so many big toys and items on the lawn: Disney characters, deers, Santas, Mickey and Minnie, matters of fun critters on the roof.

Later at night we realized that Edmundo Rombeiro ran a snow machine to keep a snowman happy! This to the delight of visitors. Terry got to work taking pictures. This Religion Writer knocked on the front door, to no avail. But a phone call announcing press credentials did get us a greeting and inside the house, Mr. Rombeiro even offered the three of us a Christmas libation, which we declined. Terry was taken happily with a train set running in one fabulously overdone and cheerful room. Mr. Rombeiro ran the train especially for us. There is something fascinating about a toy train set up at Christmas time! This was a particularly good one, town and all. The room was a good size, nothing chintzy about this set-up.

There is a dedication to the work of setting up the special Christmas House, greeting visitors every evening, and especially playing Santa Claus for the children while wearing the red suit as Mr. Rombeiro goes his working way for the Season giving joy and surprise. It is in its way an uncommon work by a man, so deserves some applause and even a sense of awe in its common man’s celebration of the holiday.

Linda Shirado talked with Mr. Rombeiro’s wife who along with her husband told her about his mother’s room, a devout woman, now gone to heaven. There the room was dedicated to a crèche and a religious procession. I think there is something genuine about the whole set-up, which one wouldn’t guess on just seeing the house and getting the first look, calling it “glitz.”

In general, regarding the house the amazing and pop nature of the figurines in their fun glory were not without a room of more religious significance. After all, visitors could not help being reminded this fun house was there to say Merry Christmas! That Merry Christmas everywhere they turned…

ADDENDUM

WHEREIN THE RELIGION WRITER TALKS BY PHONE TO MAYOR ERIC LUCAN WHO GIVES THE WORD ON THE CITY OF NOVATO AND ADVERTISES SAME SOME…HE IS A YOUNG MAN WHO WAS BORN IN THE CITY AND IS IN HIS FIRST TERM YEAR AS MAYOR…

This paraphrase comes from the Religion Writer’s notes…

The Rombeiros’ have been putting together their [plentiful and magnificent Christmas lighted] house for 22 years. People come… from Novato and all over the place. People from outside the area come…. It’s a local family putting together this [fabulous extravagantly lighted house].

[In Novato,] we’re always engaged by giving in the spirit [at this time of year]…it’s part of our culture as a city to go big and celebrate. One of our unique characteristics…It makes people happy to know they are being happy and gives them joy. It’s a joy of the season when people tend to be more giving, even though people tend to do the retail madness. Even though there’s the push for consumerism.

We do a downtown tree lighting every year, and a toy collection [is done] by the fire fighters. Local businesses put together the tree lighting right on Sherman Avenue across from the City Hall on December 7, a Saturday. It’s a real live tree that is on the corner that we decorate with lights. It is the same tree every year. The biggest attraction is Santa Claus and he rides in the main street in a carriage to a Santa Village for the children to sit on his lap.

The Fire District gathers toys and our Novato Police Department partners with Target and offers Shop with a Cop for low income children who get a gift card to buy presents for their family. And also gets to target low income students. With [Low income students in the city, many of them] get a gift card.

[Some city facts:] Novato has approximately 50,000 people and it is about 25 miles north of San Francisco. It is considered an affluent middle class community.

We have some of the better climate in the area and a doable commute distance to San Francisco. We are a bedroom community, but a handful of miles from wine country, near open sp7ace and hiking trails in Marin County. The city of Novato is thirty minutes from a major city, thirty minutes from wine country, and thirty minutes from the coast: we’ve got it all.

One of the things I look forward to [in the Christmas season] is putting lights on my own house. Every street needs decorated houses. I do it for my own enjoyment. Christmas is a special time for me. It helps everybody get into the spirit. I put up ice cycle lights along the roof of my house. There’s a little bit of risk in putting up Christmas lights. I get up on the roof.

We also go out and then [on getting our tree] put up our Christmas tree. We got it up last night (December 16, 2013). We also made homemade peppermint bark.

This year I’m fortunate to serve as Mayor, having grown up in Novato. I look at what people do and give back. I look at the Rombeiros’ who make Novato so special with their specially lit up home with all the lighted ornaments and decorations. It’s the people and the community for us in Novato. I couldn’t be more honored or proud to serve as Mayor. To contact Mayor Eric Lucan: elucan@novato.org

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