How One Man's Christmas Spirit Lights Up His Whole Neighborhood

Reindeer pull Santa's sleigh over John Ragno’s Otis Street driveway. (Somerville Arts Council)
Reindeer pull Santa's sleigh over John Ragno’s Otis Street driveway. (Somerville Arts Council)

Come each December, you can’t miss John Ragno’s home on Otis Street. He actually owns three houses just west of Cross Street in Somerville—two side by side, and one across the street—and he covers them with so many Christmas lights and winter decorations that you could use them as a beacon to guide your sleigh tonight.

“I’ve been doing it almost 30 years,” he says. “I started off with a manger outside, a small manger on the porch. And it grew.”

The house is a premiere stop on the Somerville Arts Council’s annual “Illuminations Tour” of Christmas light displays around the city. Tickets for the narrated trolley tours on Saturday, Dec. 14, are already sold out. But you can buy $3 maps to do your own self-guided tour at Somerville City Hall, 93 Highland Ave., from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday and starting Dec. 16 at Blue Cloud Gallery, 713 Broadway, and Magpie, 416 Highland Ave. Or you can join the Somerville Bike Committee to pedal through town in its free “Somerville Illuminations Bicycle Tour” that leaves from Somerville High School, 81 Highland Ave., at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 14. (Also check out our guide to the Greatest Christmas Lights Around Greater Boston.)

Ragno’s houses have a light-up baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men, angels, bells, bows, Santas, wreaths, candy canes, trees, a train, gingerbread people. One house has Mickey and Minnie Mouse. “My oldest daughter’s into Disney,” he says. “I have another daughter across the street, she’s into Snoopy and ‘Peanuts.’ So we try to do that.” The highlight is a light-up Santa, sleigh and reindeer suspended in the air between two of the houses.

“It gives me the Christmas spirit. At my age, I need something,” he says. “I’ll be 75 next year.”

John Ragno home on Otis Street in Somerville. (Somerville Arts Council)
John Ragno home on Otis Street in Somerville. (Somerville Arts Council)

The original inspiration came from when his five daughters were young and the whole family used to drive up to Lynnfield—or maybe it was Lynn, it was a long time ago—to see houses elaborately decorated up there.

He’s collected so many decorations at this point that it takes him about a week to bring everything up from storage (“and that’s all that’s down cellar, that stuff”) and check that they’re in good working order. Then a week to hang it all up. Family members don’t like him getting up on ladders any more, so the upper stories take longer to decorate than they used to.

“Usually the first Sunday after Thanksgiving, we go out there,” Ragno says. “I put one grandchild in each house. At 5:30, we countdown—one, two, three. When we get to three, they all go on.”

What’s his electric bill look like? “I really don’t know,” he says. “I asked my wife. She says it really isn’t that much of a difference. I figure you’re going to blow that money anyway.”

Follow Greg Cook on Twitter @AestheticResear.

This program aired on December 13, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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Greg Cook Arts Reporter
Greg Cook was an arts reporter and critic for WBUR's The ARTery.



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