It's true, Santa Claus is elusive. But Santa's helpers abound, and you couldn't find a more authentic Santa substitute than the one who magically appears every Christmas Eve at 6 Midwood Road in Norwalk. This Santa has been making children's hearts brighter for 22 years with no thought of what he himself might get out of it, working nearly year-round to create holiday joy. The jolly old elf surrounds himself with a winter wonderland of hanging lights and little Christmas vignettes, some glowing with heartwarming fireplaces.
Inside the Christmas Eve Santa suit is Rich Setti, who has made himself locally famous by letting a decorating contest with his wife take over his life. "She tried to challenge me," he said. "I criticized her decorating abilities and she said, 'If you can do any better, you'll start next year.' It got bigger and bigger."
Plywood characters, little houses and artificial Christmas trees cover the front lawn at the Setti Christmas Village . White reindeer stand by the road. Lights sway in the breeze overhead, hung just so. "I put them up a certain way," Setti said. "You see how the wind is blowing? They're all swaying. I do that for a reason so there's no tension on the lines. And then when we're ready to take them down we just unplug them and they all start dropping. It takes 3 ½ months to put up. Last year it took us 50 hours to take down."
He figures there are 6,000 to 7,000 light sets. There are 6,485 characters (101 are new this year), and about a third of a mile of electrical wiring, much of it underground. A friend helped him get a separate electrical service for the yard. "Sooner or later it was going to blow," he said. Setti begins installing the village in September, with a little help. "We have a crew that does the roof, we have a crew that does the fencing. I mean, whatever has to be finished, they do. The wives then come up, that same day, maybe 8:30,10 o'clock. They, along with my wife, are responsible for all the artificial trees up in the village and getting all the little houses set up with the chairs and tables, and dressing up. They take care of all of that. So I guess you would say it's a community effort. But it's a lot of fun. I enjoy it. If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't be doing it."
After the season ends, Setti takes January off to unwind. Come February, he'll be at work again.
Hundreds of families come to the home during the holiday season."Thank you so much for this," one visitor said Monday. "We come every year and it's such a treat." "I just make all of this stuff and put it out," Setti replied. "You people make it happen because all of you come up to enjoy what we do and that makes me happy. And that's what it's all about, and for the kids you know, they love it. There's not much in this town for the little kids to remember anymore."
"Every year it seems bigger and bigger," said Kelly Nguyen, who came to the Setti Village when she was a teenager, when it was new. Now she is bringing her own children.
Setti figures he has 1,700 letters to Santa, written on a station in his village. Then there are the kids who come to see Santa in person. "Christmas eve will be mobbed," he said. "We have Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. My buddies come up in the morning, put the building up, put the electric blanket out for my wife. We average between 400-500 kids. They sit in our lap. They get a candy cane. It's a fun night. It's a fun Christmas."
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.