Festivals of lights

Two localities offer a drive through lighted displays

While driving through the light display, Santa and Mrs. Claus along with other characters stand still until drivers honk their horn. (The Leader-Herald/Opal Jessica Bogdan)

AMSTERDAM – Hundreds of extension cords and thousands of lights create a countless number of memories and smiles for families, friends and community members who drive through the city’s Christmas light displays.

Amsterdam has two different lighted drives that each feature a mix of displays, decorated trees and holiday music. A casual drive through them can get anyone into the holiday spirit.

Both lighted displays are on their 18th year, as they host thousands of Christmas lights and displays that two individuals take the time to set up each year. Depending on how fast the car is going, both drives take around 10 minutes.

Light up the Sky with the Marching Rams is located at 154 Brookside Ave. in Amsterdam. The year is their “final show” and operator of the display, Linda Selbert, said she is sad to say she will not be continuing the show because of the amount of work involved. The drive costs $5 for each car and all benefits go toward the Amsterdam High School Marching Band.

A second show, called  the Kristy Pollack Memorial Christmas Light Display, is free for cars and is located on Lyons Street in Amsterdam. Although free, donation boxes are set up with proceeds to go to the Make-A-Wish foundation.

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan A display in the Kristy Pollack light display.

Kristy Pollack              Memorial Christmas Light Display

Dave Falso, organizer and owner of the park, said the light show started 18 years ago for a young girl named Kristy Pollack. Falso said she was critically ill with cancer, and he started the show to help benefit her and other young children who needed help in Fulton and Montgomery counties.

Falso said until five years ago, all donations would go toward one or two children per year. However, as the years went on, more and more children who needed help were brought to his attention and he couldn’t keep up with the demand.

“It is just a very hard thing to say no. It’s hard to pick one child and let another child bypass,” Falso said.

As a result, Falso decided to make his company,  Dave Landscaping and Tree Services, a partner with the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Cars stop and take photos as they travel along the light display. (The Leader-Herald/Opal Jessica Bogdan)

Since partnering with the nonprofit, Flaso said more than $340,000 worth of wishes from Fulton and Montgomery counties have been fulfilled. On average, each wish cost around $10,000, meaning 34 children’s wishes were granted. The Make-a-Wish Foundation aims to help fulfill wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions.

“Many have told us that what we do for these children is something that no medicine or doctor can prescribe. We do it for children who may not be here tomorrow,” Falso said.

The light display is free to drive through, but donations are encouraged, with all proceeds going to the foundation. To keep the show running each year, Falso said he has 45 co-sponsors who donate operating funds to keep the park running.

Some of the lights viewed during the drive stay up all year, but Falso said the rest are put up three weeks before each season. With more than 200,000 lights, 90 displays and 18 Christmas trees, Falso says the electric bill is not bad since a majority of the lights are LED. He said the cost used to be $2,700 a season, but it’s dropped below $800 following the use of LED lights.

“My favorite thing is seeing all of the lights kick on all at once at night. They’re all set up on relays, so when the clock shifts to 5:45 it just explodes of color. It’s pretty cool,” Falso said.

Linda Selbert stands next to a donated quilt bearing different displays and moments that can be seen through the light drive. Her own square is in the bottom right, modeled after her. (The Leader-Herald/Opal Jessica Bogdan)

A fire-breathing dragon, Santa in a helicopter as Mrs. Claus waves goodbye and a lit-up horse drawn carriage that makes it appear as if the horses are walking, are just some of the displays in the park. Located on Lyons Street, the display will be lit from 5 to 10 p.m. each evening until Jan.1.

Despite the cost and time invested each year for the display, Falso said he’s proud of the lights each year and thinks it’s really nice for the community.

“It’s really nice, there is a lot there to see, and people do love it,” Falso said.

Marching Rams display

Through the dream of one lady, a quarter-mile light display became a reality 18 years ago.

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan The Kristy Pollak Holiday Lights display in Amsterdam on Thursday.

Linda Selbert had the dream to create her own light show after visiting the Centennial Olympic Park in Georgia. Inspired by the look of awe in all of the children’s faces, Selbert came home and asked her husband if she could put on a show of her own. He agreed, and she dedicated the show to benefit the Amsterdam High School Marching Rams.

Called Light up the Sky with the Marching Rams, the lighted drive costs $5 for entry, and all proceeds go towards the band to support competitions and the music the band chooses to play.

Selbert said the Rams, booster clubs, alumni and some community members made her dream a reality.

“It would be just a thought and not a reality without all these people that you see working here,” Selbert said. “They are the ones that really make the show what it is.”

The show started with 10 generators to power three lighted arches and displays such as the Grinch, angels and different houses people made from wood. Selbert said the high school students would line up along the driveway with flashlights to show the way. By chance, Selbert’s electrician had a daughter who was in the band at that time, and he volunteered to rewire the Selbert home to better accommodate the light display. A short time later, the electrician wired the whole show, using numerous extension cords to reach along the route.

The drive consists of 650 display pieces including a wooden cutout of historic Amsterdam and Montgomery County buildings. Selbert said she creates each prop with the help of volunteers, and actually created them in her basement. Selbert said that through the display’s 17 years, more than $220,000 has  been raised to support the band, and that’s not counting this year’s show.

Also along the route are band members and volunteers who dress in costume, and stand still until the passing car beeps their horn, to which they start dancing.

Bella Porter, a sophomore at AHS, is a majorette in the band and loves being a part of the light show.

“I like the tradition for the community,” Porter said. “Everyone just loves coming here year after year to see the show. It brings joy to the area and I think people enjoy the dancing kids in the costumes the most.”

As to why Selbert selected to benefit the Rams, she said she first became involved when her daughter joined the band playing clarinet her freshman year. However, Selbert recalled when she herself used to be the head majorette for the Blue Devils in Seneca Falls years ago.

“I always loved the band and my youngest daughter got involved, so it was great,” Selbert said. “It brought back a lot of memories.”

Work on new props and setting up the light display starts earlier than the winter season. Selbert said an electrical crew comes in to check any lights left on during the year, and if they find some that do not work, it’s tagged. In October, she hosts a “Rams Day” where students, parents and community members come with a box of mini-lights to replace the old ones.

“That’s what makes it so unique, because nothing is uniform. Some lights are wrapped very tight or very loose, so when you drive through it’s almost like you’re in a snowglobe because it extends out on either side,” Selbert said.

However, as the lighted display brought smiles to the community for 18 years,  Linda Selbert said this year will be her last. She said it’s very sad the show wont be continued next year, but due to the growth over the years, it became more work.

“This to me is fantastic because it gives children the opportunity to go through and see something like this,” Selbert said. “It’s just a fun production that’s upbeat. Everyone just loves coming here and the parents really brave the cold.”

Opal Jessica Bogdan covers rural Fulton County and can be reached at obogdan@leaderherald.com.