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When a new neighbor moves into the 4200 block of Greeby Street in Tacony, they’re asked a question before they can even get their things off the truck: “Do you do Christmas?”
John Grodziski, a 15-year Greeby Street veteran, says the new neighbors usually look a bit perplexed. But after one holiday season, they’re sold.
This little block in the Northeast has gone all-out with Christmas decorations every year for the last 17 years. Each year it grows, and organizers on the block say 35 homes this year will be decked out in top-to-bottom lights and decorative displays sprinkled throughout the front yards. Cars line up around the block to gawk when it gets close to the 25th each year — because of it, the street had to be converted from two-way to one-way last year on Christmas Eve.
Here on Greeby Street, Mark Stabler is the star of the show. The father of two started the tradition years ago, and does the majority of the decorating throughout the homes that agree to it — though, he has some dedicated helpers. Every foot of the front of his house has lights on it, and soon, he’ll be installing a 25-foot tree of lights on his roof.
If he’s being totally honest, Stabler really didn’t feel like doing it all again this year, because it’s getting so big. But his two daughters — and his fans — wouldn’t let him not.
“I do it because I’m nuts,” he said. “And because everybody keeps coming back.”
And that’s really about it for Stabler. He said he doesn’t have some deep reason for why he covers his block in Christmas decorations every year. Growing up, his house was made to be a winter wonderland by his father, and he wanted to keep that tradition going for his kids, too.
So each year, he sacrifices his time to completely deck out the houses. He usually starts the day after Halloween, and is working up until about two weeks before Christmas — though he said he’s about “three weeks behind” this year and has to kick the decorating into high gear. While starting off decorating his own house, he goes through every bulb to make sure it works. The expert says it’s true: “When one goes out, they all go out.”
But one thing Stabler’s not sacrificing a whole lot of? Money.
Everyone in the neighborhood for the last several years has used energy-efficient LED Christmas lights. They don’t get hot, and they don’t suck energy like the old lights used to. A Lowes in Northeast Philly gives the block huge discounts every year on their Christmas decorations. And the week after Christmas, you can bet Stabler and Grodziski will be snatching up discounted Christmas decorations to put in their sheds built specifically for it — they know they’ll be guilted into this again next year.
For the neighbors, it’s about a sense of friendship so often not seen on blocks anymore, and it’s about something they can gather around.
“It’s a real tight block and everybody gets along,” Grodzsiski said. “Yeah, we break each other’s stones, but we’re tight. People still sit on their porches and bullshit with each other. You just don’t see that on blocks anymore.”