For 40 years, James Blake, a 63-year-old receiving manager at Long Island Community Hospital, has created elaborate Christmas displays that fill up every inch of his East Patchogue, New York, home.
“I go to work, come home, [it] gets dark, [and then I] put the lights on and watch all the people come,” he told “GMA.” “It’s just positive reactions from everybody.”
Forty years ago, his display had between 200 and 300 lights. This year, Blake put up his most elaborate display yet: 40,000 lights and 250 pieces, some of which date back to the ’60s and ’70s. His roof alone has 3,000 lights.
“I was inspired to do the display because I really liked it as a child,” he said. “It reminded me of great Christmases and good times, so I continued that through my lifetime.”
It takes him seven to 10 hours a day over two months to put the display up, including testing all the lights and decorating the entire home. But he doesn’t do it alone. Blake gets help from his brothers and nephews.
“He’s almost like in a trance. He just keeps going and going, and he never gets tired,” his wife Jean Blake said. She calls their home a Winter Wonderland.
Christmas plays a big role in the Blakes' relationship. It happened to be the day of their first date years ago. He also proposed to her with a ring hidden in an ornament hanging on a Christmas tree.
“He really does love it. I can’t even put any more words into it, how much joy he gets out of seeing their faces when [they] pull up and they look at the decorations,” she said.
“Yeah, I should be a Santa!” he said.
Making a wish come true
Blake’s elaborate display also makes dreams come true for children with critical illnesses, thanks to his collaboration with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The inspiration came from his sister, Anne, who passed away four years ago from stomach cancer. She was involved in fundraising for the organization.
“It touched my heart that my sister did this work, so I wanted to continue doing charitable work,” he said.
To honor his sister, Blake keeps a donation box outside his home where people can donate any amount. The first year, he donated the funds to the foundation anonymously. That changed in 2017 when he became an official sponsor.
Since then, Blake has donated more than $11,000 to the foundation.
This year, Blake is helping Mateo Bedoya, 4, fulfill his dream to go to Walt Disney World.
“Mateo is so excited to go to Orlando and see Mickey Mouse. I’m very blessed,” said Carolina Blandon, Mateo’s mom, to "GMA."
Blandon said Mateo was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2016. She knew something was wrong when Mateo lost his appetite for a chunk of time, so she took him to Stony Brook hospital the day after Christmas, where doctors found a tumor in his kidney. Four days later, Mateo underwent surgery in which the tumor -- and his kidney -- were removed.
Afterward, Mateo underwent chemotherapy and finally beat cancer. Blandon says he’s a happy, healthy boy. When Mateo visited James Blake’s display, he was so excited and ran around speaking to everyone there.
“He’s very friendly!” Blandon said.
Angela Sinclair, community relations manager at Make-A-Wish Suffolk County, said the foundation is thrilled every holiday when Blake contacts them about his display.
“He’s such a warmhearted special, special man, and he truly just wants to give back to his community and help a child have their wish come true,” Sinclair said.
Passing the torch
Blake has been struggling with critical conditions of his own. He has neuropathy in his feet, legs and hands -- a pain he says can be compared to walking on glass. Recently, he was diagnosed with colitis and he says he needs a knee replacement.
Despite the pain, he decided to carry on with his jolly tradition for others, the same way his father used to when he was a kid. Growing up, his dad took him and his siblings to the Bronx and Brooklyn to see the display of lights, something that stuck with him.
Now, he hopes to pass the torch to his nephews.
“The children keep me motivated,” Blake said. “When I look at the lights outside, it helps the pain go away.”
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