If you’re catching a train or disembarking from one at the Baldwin Long Island Rail Road station starting this Sunday night, and you see bright lights three quarters of a mile to the south, that will be Katie Blazdell’s Christmas tree.
For the past decade, Blazdell has decorated the very large pine tree in front of her home, at the corner of Harte Street and Irving Place, for Christmas. When Blazdell’s parents moved in 1971, the tree was about as tall as the house. It has since grown to 85 feet — about 5 feet taller than the one currently surrounded by scaffolding at Rockefeller Center.
The tradition of decorating the Baldwin tree began with Katie’s mother, Joan Giles. “Over a decade ago, my mom decided to light the tree,” Blazdell said. “And the reason she did that was in honor of my dad, who passed away in 1993, because he always used to look at the tree and go, ‘I wish I could make that a giant Christmas tree.’”
Joan Giles died two years ago, of heart disease.
Blazdell explained that finding a company to decorate such a tall tree was difficult — and the first time she did it, the tree was 25 feet shorter. Eventually she found Pacific Lawn Sprinklers, a company headquartered in East Meadow, which was able to string lights on it.
“When they first started, they would come with a 60-foot cherry picker, and there would be a guy at the top of the ladder trying to reach the top, but they couldn’t quite reach it,” Blazdell recalled.
Eventually the company deployed an 80-foot cherry picker, which made it possible to top off the tree with a star as well. This made her mother “the happiest person ever,” Blazdell said, because she always wanted a star.
Now Blazdell hosts a tree lighting each year, at which community members gather. “I like fostering a sense of community,” she said. “And I like making sure that we have a good community, and events like this help promote that.”
Preparing the tree each year isn’t inexpensive. The multicolored lights are LED, so the electricity doesn’t cost much, but Blazdell has to pay for the labor to decorate it and then take the lights down after the holidays. She has a GoFundMe page — TinyURL.com/bdz2u2yp — and her goal is to collect $7,000 so she can pay Pacific Lawn Sprinklers for its work.
“Financially, it’s not something that’s super possible for my sister and I to continue doing on our own,” Blazdell said. “So that’s why we’ve asked the community to help out.”
“If we collected money in excess of what it cost, we’d put the money towards next year,” she added. “I hope to continue this tradition for as long as we possibly can.”
This tree lighting is important to her, because she sees the positive impact it has on the community, bringing to joy to friends and neighbors and bringing them together.
One small complication is that the tree also attracts squirrels. “The big thing we face every year is the fight against the squirrels, because they get the lights confused with food they eat during the winter,” Blazdell explained. “So we have to constantly replace the lights so the tree is always lit.”
She likes to keep the tree lit until the ninth day after Christmas, which is Jan. 3. The attendees for the lighting on Sunday will include the Baldwin Fire Department and Santa Claus, and Blazdell expects a crowd of at least 150.