“The Christmas House” at 4663 Clark St. became a local fixture, every December, for the 20 years it blazed forth.
HAMBURG — Every Christmas, the house at 4663 Clark St. in Hamburg would blaze with thousands of lights. A “Merry Christmas” sign on the lawn, trees draped with twinkling garlands, eight tiny reindeer and their famous driver, a Nativity set nestled on the lawn and for a time, a memorium to his late wife were all the work of Domenick DellaNeve, but most people just knew it as “The Christmas House.”
On April 16, DellaNeve, 88, was at his job as a security guard at the Buffalo Raceway, when he got sick. The Armor Fire Department Emergency Medical Technician Team did what they could, but DellaNeve died and with him, a 40-year-old tradition.
According to his granddaughter, Gina, DellaNeve’s decorations were all his wife Josephine’s idea.
“She loved Christmas,” Gina DellaNeve recounted. “They moved [into the house] in 1975 and they’d go around in a golf cart and set it all up. She died 15 years ago, and after that, he kept it all going. He loved doing it for her, for her spirit.”
Her spirit, according to DellaNeve, was infectious and her grandfather was devoted to his wife. After she died, he built a shrine in his home, with a photograph of the two of them from their 50th wedding anniversary. He lit a candle beneath that shrine every day, to keep her memory and that spirit alive.
Domenick DellaNeve poses with his grandchildren, last New Year’s Eve.
The Christmas house was one way he kept busy, as his friends fell away and he grew lonely, over the years.
“It was hard for him, because he almost felt like a burden,” DellaNeve said. “We would call him and take him out to dinner, but I think he did get lonely. He really adored [my grandma].”
After his death, the DellaNeve family, who built a house next door in 1994, started going through the estate, and Dominic’s granddaughter said they found tributes to his Christmas decorations, in the forms of letters, cards and kids’ drawings, some simply addressed to “Santa’s House.
“He called it his ‘fan mail,’’ Gina DellaNeve said, laughing. “People would send checks for the utility bill, but he always sent them back. I don’t think about it, because I grew up with it, but when we went through this box, we saw the dents he made in people’s lives. People were so thankful. They poured out their hearts, and it’s just unbelievable. He loved that.”
Mike Krupski, EMS Chief for the Armor Fire Department, said he was glad he could be there for the Hamburg man in his last moments, even if he knew him best the way most Hamburg residents did: from a car pulled over on the side of Clark street, come December.
“Everywhere I need to go, I pass that house,” Krupski said. “I remember when I was a kid, telling my mom to pull over so we could look. It’s going to be weird when it’s not there anymore.”
He said that he hopes someone picks it back up, but if not, he at least hopes people remember the man, as well as the house itself.
“That’s what I love about Hamburg,” he said. “People all run into each other eventually, know each other from somewhere. I’ve been telling people that he died, and they may not know his name, but they know about the Christmas lights. I think it’s important to put a face to it.”
The DellaNeve family gathers together for one of its many picnics with Domenick DellaNeve in the center.
Domenick DellaNeve graduated from Burgard High School in Buffalo in 1943 and was drafted into the army that September. He found himself on the front lines in Frenz, Scotland, and was wounded in a battle during which his platoon was trying to capture the Frenzberg Castle. That was a year after his induction, on Nov. 26, 1944. He was honorably discharged on Feb. 26, 1947. He worked as a postal carrier for 40 years, during which time he also worked at Molina Auto Parts and many other jobs, right up until his death.
“He was a working man,” Gina DellaNeve said. “He always had to be doing something. If he wasn’t at work, he was working in the yard. He had this huge house, and he loved it.”
He wouldn’t help his family put up the lights for him, his granddaughter said, even when he got older. That was his job, his mark on the community and his tradition.
And tradition, for the large Italian family, was always important. Every Sunday, the DellaNeves got together for pasta and Carolyn DellaNeve’s sauce, which Dominic DellaNeve loved, Gina DellaNeve recalled.
“He loved his pasta Sundays, and he loved his family. He loved having us here, and we can’t imagine him not being here. I saw him every day. When you’re young and you have grandparents, you take them for granted. Some people don’t have the luxury that we had, of having him right there, for so long.”
He had just returned from one of his annual trips to Atlantic City, where he had won $300 playing the slots. The family had all gotten together for his grandson and granddaughter-in-law’s birthdays, which are a day apart, the weekend before. His grandson, Rocco, was home from a trip to Thailand, and had slept over at his parents’ that night. He heard the doorbell ring late at night, and woke up his sister.
“That’s how we heard,” she said. “We never got to say goodbye, but that’s how it was meant to be. He had a great life and he’s with grandma now. Whenever I get sad, that’s what I think about.”
The first few weeks without him have been hard for the DellaNeve family, but Gina DellaNeve said the “fan mail” and love from the community has helped them through.
“He had a special knock,” she said. “Every time the doorbell rings, I kind of think it’s him.
“Christmas will be hard,” she said, noting that the family has not decided what to do about the house, just yet. But for now, a single Christmas tree with white lights was lit, for days after he passed. It stood as a tribute to the man who made a Christmas tradition for Hamburg and area children, their children and sometimes, their grandchildren, before he joined his late wife in the light.