Since 2011, James Curiazza has turned his Gibsonville home into a over-the-top musical, Christmas lights display in honor of his brother Dean, who died after a cancer battle in 1967

By Lindsay Kimble
December 23, 2016 07:19 PM
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Before James Curiazza’s brother lost his battle with Leukemia in 1967, the family held one last Christmas for 4-year-old Dean.

“Dean loved the Christmas lights as well as the joy that the Christmas season brought with it,” Curiazza tells PEOPLE. “We had a special Christmas just for him prior to his death. I don’t remember the exact date of our early Christmas, but my parents knew he wouldn’t make it through the holiday that year.”

In the decades following Dean’s Dec. 5 death, Curiazza has worked to keep his brother’s memory alive through the holiday celebrations he so loved. Since 2011, Curiazza has turned his Gibsonville, North Carolina, home into a over-the-top musical, Christmas lights display in honor of Dean, all while raising thousands to donate to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Larger-than-life versions of Santa Claus, Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman adorn Curiazza’s house, and perform to classic Christmas tunes seven days a week, throughout the holiday season.

“The current display is down to a science. We haven’t changed it too much since we’ve started mainly due to lack of time and funding. We’re only talking a couple of days to set up, calibrate the programming, and do any repair work,” Curiazza, who works in engineering and operations for the Duke University Medical Center, tells PEOPLE.

The initial build of the display caricatures took around 40 hours, each, he says. “My wife Tracy was my chief designer. My three children – Francesca, Gianna and Santino (Sonny) – were our lighting elves. They had the tedious job of securing thousands of feet of rope lighting to these metal frames. The programming of the animation took approximately two hours per each minute of music.”

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Credit: James Curiazza

Visitors stream by “non-stop” some days, Curiazza says, while others can seem quiet.

“This year was exceptionally hard for us to pull it together,” he admits. “We weren’t sure as to the extent that we were going to go to make it happen, but we did – largely because of the amount of people stopping us and asking, ‘When will it be ready,’ because they visit so frequently.”

The hard work has paid off: “In the past five years, we’ve submitted upwards of $10,000 to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. We do not and have not kept any contributions. All operating and maintenance costs come out of pocket. I guess that’s our contribution as well.”

“When we first decided to make this a charity based event – mainly because so many people asked how much to watch it and for what cause – the LLS was my first resource,” Curiazza explains. “We knew we were going to honor Dean with this show and the LLS was the first organization that came to mind. After my first phone call to the local chapter, we were taken in by how attentive and sincerely appreciative the organization was. We felt like family.”

He adds, “The beauty of the LLS is the way they are not only there for the research and development side of it, but a major portion of their cause is for helping the families and patients cope with what they are going through. Something that wasn’t readily available back in Dean’s day.”

Meredith Johnson, operations manager for LLS’ North Carolina chapter, tells PEOPLE in a statement, “We are so thankful for the passion Jimmy puts in to his annual holiday lights display supporting The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in North Carolina. His lights are much more meaningful than spreading holiday cheer. “

LLS is currently investing more than $3.3 million in research projects locally in North Carolina and distributed $1.1 million in co-pay financial assistance to patients in the state, last year, Johnson said.

Curiazza knows that the lights would mean so much to Dean. “He would absolutely love them,” Curiazza says. “I know it and I feel it.”

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To donate to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through Curiazza’s fundraising page, click here. Those in the Gibsonville area can visit Bent Tree Court through Jan. 8 between 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. ET on weeknights, and until 10:00 p.m. ET on weekends. On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve the lights will give “extended concerts.”