By Jessica Easthope
When the elevator arrives at the seventh floor of the Penn-Wortman Houses in East New York, the doors open up to another world, a winter wonderland, an escape from reality into a place where Christmas magic comes alive. Just like Santa, every year Elizabeth Figueroa delivers for the hundreds who come to see her hallway.
“Every year it was a little more and a little more because I couldn’t afford it and I saw I was getting more pieces and I would expand,” she said.
Elizabeth has been decorating her hallway for 41 years. A tradition that started with her mom and a few trimmings has turned into every inch of her hallway covered.
“I started doing it out of grieving for her, this came out of grief, because she liked to do it and I knew she’d like if I did it, she started with the doors and the sides and it took off from there I started doing more,” she said.
Elizabeth has made a living as a private tutor for children, she says they’re what drive her displays. Over the years, she’s poured more than $80,000 into the hallway. And it’s not Santa’s elves who put this all up, Elizabeth and her husband, Willie work all night to make it happen.
She takes on the walls and the doors and Willie takes the ceiling, an enchanted forest of white branches that he picks, colors and strings himself with fishing line to give the illusion they’re floating.
“You could come out of the elevator with a problem and the minute they get off the elevator, after a couple of seconds in here they forget about their angry and their problems, it neutralizes them,” Willie said.
But as much as they’ve put in, they say they get back even more. Elizabeth had her first giveaway this year, she handed out 200 toys to kids in her building.
“We want to make sure we bring joy to the kids and stability and relief for the mothers,” she said.
But Elizabeth says all the tinsel, lights and sparkle can’t distract from the true meaning of Christmas.
As much work as it took to put all of the decorations up, Elizabeth will soon take it all down, she said her Christmas decor will be packed away a few days after New Year’s, that’s when she starts to plan her display for Valentine’s Day.