A neighborhood on Long Island is covered in Christmas decorations — and not because people neglected to take them down.
Although the holiday season is long past, twinkly lights and festive ornaments recently reappeared on the streets of Bethpage, in a show of support for a grieving neighbor.
It started when Sara Pascucci received a letter in the mail on Feb. 3 scolding her for still having Christmas decorations up.
The anonymous, typed letter read: “Take your Christmas lights down! Its Valentines Day!!!!!!”
While the letter would have upset her in normal circumstances, Pascucci said, it hit especially hard now. She lost both her father and her aunt to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in January, less than one week apart.
Her father, who lived with her, put up the Christmas decorations immediately after Thanksgiving — as he did every year. In the weeks following his death on Jan. 15, Pascucci couldn’t bring herself to take the decorations down. Receiving the harsh letter, she said, was “a major blow to the heart.”
“No one really knows what is going on inside the house or why we didn’t take down the decorations,” said Pascucci, 31. “I couldn’t believe someone would do this.”
She shared the letter in the Long Island Moms Facebook group and explained why it was particularly painful, in the hopes that the anonymous sender might see her post.
“For anyone in the Bethpage area — if you know of a person who would do something so insensitive like this please pass along my message,” Pascucci wrote.
“Our entire family was sick with covid starting December 24th. Within this timeframe, we lost 2 family members. One being my father,” she continued. “He loved decorating our house every year for the holidays ever since we were children and he took so much pride in doing so. He did it for us, especially for my 2 year old son who he loved so dearly.”
Over the past several weeks, the family has been preoccupied with “funeral arrangements, mortgage/utility payments, and just the grieving process of it all,” Pascucci explained in the post. “So yes, we haven’t gotten around to taking down his Christmas decorations. And maybe we just aren’t ready to yet. I won’t apologize for this.”
She ended the post with “Be kind to people because you never know what they are going through.”
The community was outraged on her behalf. Within minutes of her sharing the post, dozens of messages flooded Pascucci’s Facebook inbox.
“I was completely floored and overwhelmed,” said Pascucci, a receptionist for a dermatologist, adding that she had heard from a few others in the neighborhood who had received the same letter. “I didn’t post it looking for pity. But people should think before doing things like this, especially right now with everything going on in the world.”
Neighbors sent the Pascucci family heartfelt cards, flowers and meals, and a GoFundMe page was created to help cover mounting mortgage payments and funeral costs.
“A man and his wife came with roses and a letter,” Pascucci recalled. “He said: ‘Keep your Christmas lights up. I know what it feels like to lose someone and not want to put their things away. It’s very hard.’ “
Beyond the private acts of kindness, what struck Pascucci the most, she said, is that many neighbors started to put their own holiday decorations back up so she wouldn’t feel so alone.
Bethpage residents climbed up to their attics and down to their basements to retrieve the decorations they had already stored away for the season. In early February, they redecorated their homes for Christmas.
“We heard about the letter, and that night we turned our lights back on,” said Elaine Murray, 42, who lives around the corner from Pascucci. “No one is going to tell us to turn them off.”
She and her family put a wreath back on the front door, secured an inflatable snowman to the lawn and programmed their Christmas lights to turn on every evening at 5 in honor of Pascucci’s father, Anthony Pascucci, who was 60, and her aunt, Concetta Pascucci, who was 70 when she died Jan. 9.
“They will be missed,” said Murray, a nurse on the front lines of the pandemic. For her, the two deaths “really just hit home.”
Seeing the bright lights and decorations once again around the neighborhood gives her “something to look forward to every night,” she said.
“Especially in this time, we should all just be kind and watch what we say,” Murray added. “Sara can keep her lights on for the whole year if she wants.”
Other neighbors soon followed suit, and suddenly, it started to look a lot like Christmas in Bethpage.
When the McGuggart family heard about the letter, they set up colorful lights outside their home a few doors down from the Pascuccis.
“I couldn’t believe that someone would send her this letter,” said Karen McGuggart, 58. “Losing her wonderful dad, whom all the neighbors loved, and her beautiful aunt, who was always smiling, is such a tragedy. We are heartbroken.”
McGuggart’s two children, ages 18 and 25, were particularly infuriated when they heard about the letter.
“They were outraged that someone would do something so nasty,” said McGuggart, whose kids promptly went up to the attic and grabbed the Christmas lights the family had taken down weeks ago.
“Houses suddenly lit up again,” McGuggart said. “Everybody has their Christmas lights on to show that we’re all behind the person who couldn’t take hers down.”
Other Long Island residents stumbled upon Pascucci’s post and were inspired by the festive feeling in the Bethpage community. Renee Clausen, 37, who lives nearby in West Islip, decided to get involved. She said she could relate to Pascucci’s story.
“I’ve dealt with quite a bit of loss in my family, so I know how she feels, and it’s the little things that do make you feel better and give you comfort,” said Clausen, who offered to make a small memorial on Pascucci’s front lawn for her father and aunt.
“I can’t tell you how much it has helped me to make her happy, because I’ve been having a really difficult time myself,” continued Clausen, who manages a struggling restaurant. “There’s no way for me to believe there are good people in this world if I can’t be a good person myself.”
On Feb. 14, to mark Valentine’s Day, the whole Bethpage area is planning to simultaneously light up their homes with bright, colorful bulbs “in memory of my father, and anyone else who lost their lives to COVID,” Pascucci said.
She is awed by the kindness of her community, she added, explaining that, ultimately, she is glad to have received the letter.
“I actually want to thank that person, for bringing me all this love and support in a time when I needed it most,” Pascucci said.