Amerante's Winter Wonderland lights up Route 101

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Nov. 26, 2012
Mrs. Claus paid a visit on opening night. Photos by D. Coffey.
Mrs. Claus paid a visit on opening night. Photos by D. Coffey.

Daniel Amerante went over the plans one last time with his brother Joey before turning on the breakers for the official lighting of 62,500 Christmas lights that make up Amerante's Winter Wonderland in Killingly. He stationed Joey outside, headlamp and walkie-talkie at the ready. Daniel stood next to the electrical panel in the basement, poised to flip the 12 breakers that would turn the property into a celebration of all things Christmas.

But he was nervous. He had performed a test run on Thanksgiving, only to have the transformer on a pole outside the house fail. CL&P crews replaced it with a commercial-grade transformer within three hours, but his neighbor had to cook his turkey on the barbecue grill. A test run on the morning of Nov. 23 kept the lights on for a few hours. The evening would be the true test when he planned to leave the lights on for four hours. “Will it all stay on?” Daniel Amerante asked. “I'm pushing it. I'm on the edge.”

When Joey started the countdown, Daniel was focused on the electrical panel. At 5 p.m., one breaker after another was flipped. Outside, string after string of lights went on at the corner of Pratt Street and Route 101. A dark stretch of highway turned into the colors of Christmas. Candy cane colors shone through the trees. Inflatable Santas, penguins and snowmen filled the yard. The lights that were strung everywhere, around tree trunks, along pathways and on 10 Christmas trees shone out like beacons in the night. There were lights on the rim of the swimming pool and around the base of a trampoline. A child's gym was outlined in lights, as was a swing set. Icicle lights hung everywhere and 165 candy canes led from the road to the house. “If there was something in the yard that could be lit up, it was,” Daniel said.

Family friend Heather Smith was on hand for the occasion. “I bet you can see this from space,” she said as she watched her daughter's reaction. “He started with a few lights, then a section of yard. He might have been scheming this from the womb.”

Daniel admits that his labor of love has been taking shape since he was a boy. He was fascinated by the huge Christmas displays put on by Mervin Whipple of Ballouville. Whipple sold his display of more than 100,000 lights in 2004. Daniel Amerante, or Junior Mr. Christmas as some call him, intends to keep building on his display. He may well become Whipple's heir apparent.  Already he is talking about installing solar panels on the roof to bolster next year's energy supply.

For Daniel it's not just the lights that are important, though he hopes they brighten the lives of motorists who pass by. He wants to help his community. There are donation boxes should anyone care to contribute to the American Cancer Society or Access Agency. “Access helped us out with food and oil when we needed it,” he said. “Now we're giving back.”

The Ellis Tech senior is in the electrical technology program, but said social work may be in his future. “I'd like to get involved in people's lives,” he said. Daniel lost his biggest supporter when his father Joseph, Jr., passed away in February 2012. “I'm doing it in memory of him. And to say there's more to life than this,” he said.

Daniel Amerante belongs to the Lighthouse Church of God in Plainfield, and the lights are a shining message of faith for him. He echoes a popular refrain among Christians at this time of year: Christ is the reason for the season. “Maybe people will see Jesus in me,” he said. “Maybe people will feel loved.”

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