Christmas lights illuminate the Chakolas home in Chesterfield, N.H., which they open up to the public for the  Holiday Lights at The Farm  event where
Christmas lights illuminate the Chakolas home in Chesterfield, N.H., which they open up to the public for the Holiday Lights at The Farm event where nearly 1 million outdoor lights decorate the 80-acre estate. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Saturday December 11, 2010

CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- Ross Wilkin and Gary Hier, Jr., have traveled to Pond Brook Road almost on a daily basis since October to help erect the region's very own winter wonderland.

Wilkin and Hier, both working on the exterior decorations, are now putting the finishing touches on the "Holiday Lights at The Farm" event, where nearly one million outdoor lights decorate the 80-acre estate of John and Rita Chakolas.

For many winters, the Chakolas have opened to the public the gates of their West Chesterfield home for a spectacular display of glittering Christmas scenes and holiday cheer for the whole family.

"Every year it gets a little bigger," said Joy Washburn, caretaker at the estate. She has worked since August to prepare some of the larger hand-wrapped displays, many of which are very labor-intensive.

A majority of the display frames are shrouded with rope lights.

"At this point, it takes about a half-hour to drive through it all," Washburn added.

As vehicles approach through the main gate, they travel under a half dozen lighted archways leading up to the main house, where visitors are also greeted by a giant illuminated Santa Claus.

On each side of the road, there are more than 60 framed displays on the property -- everything from seasonal nutcrackers and candles to elephants and swans. Holiday music is heard throughout the entire lighting extravaganza.

"There's got to be a minimum of 300 pieces, not including the trees," Wilkin said, working on a cold Friday morning.

About 50 full-grown trees are wrapped in LED lights for this year's display, more than 140 boxes worth.

"The average tree takes eight sets of lights -- there's about 1,600 to 2,000 mini-lights on each tree," he said. "You wouldn't believe these trees, they just gobble up these boxes of lights."

With equipment and labor costs, the tab has already surpassed $100,000.

Christmas lights cover the gates of the Chakolas home in Chesterfield, N.H., which they open up to the public for the  Holiday Lights at The Farm  event
Christmas lights cover the gates of the Chakolas home in Chesterfield, N.H., which they open up to the public for the Holiday Lights at The Farm event where nearly 1 million outdoor lights decorate the 80-acre estate. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)

Each year, the Chakolas also invite Joan's Food Pantry of Chesterfield to set up a donation table so volunteers can stock the shelves throughout the winter months. Joan's serves roughly 100 families weekly from Swanzey, Chesterfield, Hinsdale, Winchester and Brattleboro.

The Chakolas family did the lighting display for a decade before stopping it about seven years ago. In its return last season, more than 3,000 cars visited and an estimated $6,000 in donations went to the pantry.

Located at 140 Pond Brook Road, the lighting fantasy land will open from 6 to 9 p.m. from Dec. 15 through Dec. 21. Nonperishable food items or cash donations will be accepted at the gate by Joan's Food Pantry volunteers.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.