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This is what it takes to install a Clark Griswold-worthy holiday display

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Dan-Amarante-Holiday-Display
Daniel Amarante and his family create a walk-through holiday display at their home in Dayville, Conn. Ryan Hargraves/EagleEye LLC

November is when the calendar canonizes many winter holiday traditions: Black Friday shopping, perhaps snowfall, and — of course — Mariah Carey’s annual blessing that it is finally acceptable to start blaring “All I Want for Christmas Is You’’ at all hours of the day.

For several New Englanders, it is the homestretch for setting up holiday light displays that have been in the works since New Year’s Day.

“Honestly, we’re working towards next year,’’ said Rich Arsenault, whose Northbridge light display routinely draws upward of a thousand visitors each night but is taking a regularly scheduled hiatus this year for future planning (The general rule of thumb is two years on, one year off.). “My peers are all out there in the cold setting up right now. I’m already into the building process for next year and placing orders.’’

It seems like every town has that house: the one with enough holiday lights to potentially confuse airline pilots into thinking it’s a runway at Logan Airport instead of someone’s front lawn. But there is more behind those light displays than an astronomical monthly electric bill.

It’s a small community of holiday lighting display enthusiasts who just want to bring a little cheer to their communities or, thanks to television broadcasts, visitors as far away as Hong Kong. But Rome wasn’t built in a day — nor are these opulent lighting displays.

“We start planning on New Year’s Day when we take it down,’’ Amanda Sachs said with a laugh.

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Santa visits Jacob Sachs at his family’s light display in Bellingham. —The Sachs Family

Sachs and her husband, Justin, practically spend the entire year on their Bellingham lighting display, which begins with a Halloween display that shifts to Christmas over the month of December. The early part of the year is devoted to redesigning the show for the next holiday season and ordering materials.

“I’ll make my wife a nice dinner and say, ‘Hey, I know you said let’s watch a movie and have some family time tonight for Valentine’s Day, but can we do that while we’re stringing up Christmas lights?’’ Justin Sachs joked — kind of. “She’s a very understanding woman.’’

The Arsenaults have their annual display disassembled by the first week in January. The family spends the spring reviewing which displays will carry over from the prior year, with some of the décor dating to 1997. The summer is for building and repairs from wear and tear.

“By the time January gets here, you don’t really want to spend a lot of time in the yard fixing things,’’ Arsenault said. “You just want to put it away. The summer gives you the opportunity to do those repairs.’’

Assembly of these holiday displays generally starts in October, with the Christmas season start date always targeted for after dinner on Thanksgiving. Daniel Amarante enlists as many family members as possible to erect his walk-through display near the Rhode Island border in Dayville, Conn. But for this year’s display, he estimates he has spent at least two hours a day during the week and all day on Saturdays and Sundays to get the finished product.

The walking path can take a week to assemble, with wooden stakes all around Amarante’s property to guide visitors through displays of Christmas trees and holiday characters. Light poles need to be kept in good shape and occasionally require a paint job.

Lights are strung up with zip ties, and — thanks to the national television show “The Great Christmas Light Fight’’ — family members like Amarante’s wife and mom are needed to help guide crowds and keep a nightly count of the thousands of people who pass through the property.

“I give credit to all my family that helps, because there’s a lot of things that I do on my own, but everyone plays an important role,’’ Amarante said.

There are added challenges in Bellingham, where the Sachs family decorates for both Halloween and Christmas. Versatility goes into the quick transition from holiday to holiday, which takes only a matter of days.

Black widow spider displays turn into snowflakes. Lights that look like dripping blood at Halloween are icicles in the Christmas season.

“It is a very costly hobby. Saving money is definitely a plus,’’ Justin Sachs said. “But the better the technology gets, the more energy efficient it gets, and the better it makes the show. So, it’s an easy win-win.’’

Speaking of money, when it comes to electric bills during the holiday display season, ignorance can be bliss.

“We literally don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about it with each other,’’ Arsenault said of opening the winter electric bill each month with his wife, Leslie. Costs are coming down thanks to tech innovations and energy-efficiency standards, he said. “It’s actually much lower now than ever.’’

Arsenault estimates that he and Leslie once used as many as 250,000 lights for their holiday display. But now the presentation — which also times to a curated music playlist streamed to radio, uses pixels — individual lights that can be swapped out on their own instead of having to replace an entire strand.

“Now I can synchronize to music and have a much bigger event,’’ Arsenault said. “The technology has kept up with that.’’

The pixel method also requires significantly fewer bulbs — the Arsenaults use about 25,000 that can turn a variety of colors to create a more vibrant display. The Sachs family display at Halloween this year required about 16,000 pixels.

While these massive displays have taken on new life and accelerated with technology, they didn’t start out this way. The lighting evolution began many years ago.

The Sachs display began with extra lights purchased at Home Depot to make a Christmas photo with their newborn son stand out. The display eventually swelled from being a neighborhood draw to a regional one in which the Sachs family met other members of the holiday lighting community, like Warwick, R.I., Mayor Frank J. Picozzi, who was known for his own display before taking office.

“People are always saying I’m Warwick’s Santa Claus, so being the mayor would be a demotion,’’ Picozzi jokingly told WJAR NBC 10 last year of his annual display before winning his campaign.

Amarante’s display goes back to his late father’s love of Christmas and smaller light displays comprised of old incandescent bulbs, which the family would fix each year in the living room before setting out to decorate outside.

“My love for Christmas just took it to the next level, and we’d go to the store and buy an inflatable, and I would also beg to get a little angel,’’ he added. “What 10-year-old wants Christmas decorations for gifts? That’s where it started.’’

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A drone shot of Daniel Amarante’s walk-though display last year in Dayville, Conn. —Ryan Hargraves/EagleEye LLC

The Amarante display swelled into one in which passersby would park their cars to take photos. When his father died in 2012, the display took on a new purpose.

“The year my dad passed was the make-it or break-it point. It was like we’re either going to stop this, or let’s just do it in his honor. So, I made that decision,’’ Amarante said. “That’s kind of the turning point of when it really jumped in scale.’’

Many of these displays come from the heart and even link up with local charities to get visitors to donate to the organizations while they enjoy the lights. But it isn’t always filled with festive fervor.

The surging popularity of these displays can lead to crowded streets and honking cars — chaos that doesn’t exactly inspire a visit from Santa.

The Sachs family instructs drivers via signage to keep their car stereo volumes at reasonable levels when listening to the radio station timed with the display. The family also performs neighborly good deeds throughout the year like stacking firewood and cutting lawns for elderly neighbors to compensate for some of the holiday traffic.

The Arsenaults are strategic with their “two years on, one year off’’ schedule to give neighbors a break from the holiday crowds. City and town officials are usually flexible with the displays and recognize it’s only for a small part of the year.

But this is the holidays, after all. Scrooge and Santa coexist.

“I have had maybe one Grinch over the course of all the years I’ve done this,’’ Amarante said slyly.

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