Youngster turns Christmas display into chance to give back

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Mon., Dec. 10, 2012
Evan Gilgenbach poses with some of his Christmas yard decorations. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Evan Gilgenbach poses with some of his Christmas yard decorations. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

While most kids are delighted by displays of Christmas lights and decorations, one Griswold youngster has decided to take the initiative and make his family’s Christmas display a chance to give back. Evan Gilgenbach, age 8, decided to open his family’s outdoor Christmas decoration display to town residents last week. He and his parents, Kate and Michael, conducted an open house at their Hopeville Road home, offering visitors hot chocolate, candy canes and cookies. In exchange, they invited visitors to bring in food donations for the St. Mary’s food pantry in Jewett City or contributions to the “giving tree” of Griswold’s Second Congregational Church, where the family are members. Evan's efforts yielded $60 in cash donations and 100 canned food items, said his mother. "We still have canned goods being delivered to othe house," she said.

“I had tons of Christmas lights and decorations that I wanted to put out and wanted people to come and see,” said Evan. For years he has been helping his dad set up the outdoor display, planning where the lights should go and letting his dad handle the electrical hook-up. “Every year I make a map of where the lights go, so it’s not the same every year,” he said.

Evan’s aunt, Meg Vantine, said that Evan has long been obsessed with inflatable Christmas decorations. “I once told my sister that his brain must be made of road maps and candy canes, as he can remember every single house and its blow-up in the tri-town area,” she said. “His dream was to have enough blow-ups to open his yard and have people walk through, sort of like a much smaller version of Whipple’s Chapel,” a long-time Christmas attraction in Ballouville that closed down in 2004.

Evan was given his first inflatable when he was just a toddler, and he and his family have been picking them up during after-Christmas sales for years. He’s currently up to nine, and they’re all on display: a Santa riding a polar bear, two penguins, a snowman and a Christmas tree are among the figures.

“This is to celebrate and enjoy and give back a little,” said Kate. She said Evan is gradually taking over more of the set-up responsibilities. “I think Daddy’s done doing all that stuff,” she said. “He’ll learn.”

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