For most Americans, the holiday season begins around Thanksgiving. However, for Kathy and Rombeiro and her dad, Edmundo, it starts in September, when they begin the laborious process of converting their Novato, California home into a winter wonderland. By the first Sunday of December, the ordinary suburban home is transformed into a magical “Christmas House,” complete with over 200,000 lights, fake snow, model trains, countless decorations and figurines, and even a real-life Santa Claus (Edmundo) on a sleigh.
The catalyst for this 26-year-old joyful tradition can be traced back to Edmundo’s childhood. As a young boy growing up in São Miguel, the largest island in the Azores off the coast of Portugal, he had fond memories of helping his mother set up a Nativity Scene each Christmas. When Kathy was old enough, Edmundo, who moved to America 48 years ago, decided to start a similar holiday ritual with her. Initially, the decorations were just meant for the family and friends to enjoy. However, that changed in 1990 when Edmundo noticed a neighborhood couple admiring his handiwork.
Kathy says, “Something inspired my dad. He asked the couple if they would like to see the decorations inside of the house, and there it all began. One couple turned into the second. A week went by, more people. The following year, we added another room, and from that point on our home started attracting thousands of people every year.” In 2016, the family welcomed a record 44,000 visitors (including 18 tour buses) during the holiday season.
While over a quarter of a century of curious strangers walking around the house would take its toll on most people, Kathy and Edmundo love the tradition and continue to add to the Christmas splendor each year. Now, along with the spectacular exterior, every room in the house, besides the master bedroom, brims with decorations. To help them with the increased work, the duo has recruited Kathy’s mother Mary Jo and cousin Tony Aguiar who are happy to pitch in for this joyous occasion.
Though the decor of the first four rooms changes each year, visitors will always be treated to a model train room, an angel room, and one dedicated to a replica of Edmundo’s hometown in memory of Kathy’s grandmother, the inspiration behind this fun tradition. Scattered through the house are several Christmas trees, a lighted holiday village, and a variety of other intricate displays. While the decorations are certainly a draw, what makes a visit to the Rombeiro Christmas House memorable are the family members who greet each visitor with a smile and a candy cane. It is no wonder the family receives thousands of thank you notes from people all over the world each year!
Though donations are accepted to help pay for the hefty electricity bill, there is no cost to visit this joyful house. Edmundo says, “Everyone is welcome. We open our hearts and arms, the way things are supposed to be. We just hope that we move people to have more love for each other.”
The Rombeiro Christmas House will remain open to visitors from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm until January 6, 2018. Come January 7, the family will begin the painstaking two-month process of disassembling the lights and decorations and storing them carefully until September. The hard work does not seem to faze Kathy, who says, “My inspiration is seeing the joy we bring to everyone. This time of year, people forget what the season is about. If I can bring the Christmas spirit to many or a few, that makes me happy.”
Do you have a favorite Christmas house you like to visit during the holidays? Let us know by adding your comments below.
Resources: Kathy Rombeiro, marinmommies.com