December 24, 2018

Photo Essay: Buon Natale with Flying Angels and An Erupting Volcano at Masdea's Village

Domenico Masdea hails from Calabria, Italy, where he'd help his local church build a nativity scene when he was younger.

Back then, he'd already started showing signs of what was to come.

Now, his home in Tustin, California has become a local favorite and tourist attraction for his elaborate designs...

...but not just in his yard display (which is, on its own, spectacular and worth a visit).

The two-time stage-four cancer survivor, now age 70, invites visitors to approach beyond the front yard...

...and up to the two-car garage, where he builds his own "Nativity" every year.

He hasn't missed a year since he first started in 1982, though it started inside his house on Caper Tree Drive. When it got too big for his dining room in the 1990s, it moved to the garage.

It takes this retired machinist of airplane parts a month and a half to complete the diorama of Christmas villages every year, adding new touches with each season.

Every year, the walls and ceiling are constructed out of black, crumpled paper—making the scene look like it lives inside a cave.

There are other staples of the design—a ziplining angel, a lava-flowing volcano (made out of foil, red lights, a conveyer belt and rotisserie grill), waterfalls, and thunder, to name just a few.

But there's so much of it, it's impossible to take in during just one visit. That's why so many people come year after year—and even multiple times during each season, which runs December 1 through January 6 (a.k.a. Three Kings Day, or the Feast of the Epiphany—the day depicted in most nativity scenes).

The busiest night, however, is Christmas Eve—the first night that the Baby Jesus of the Nativity is revealed.

But even earlier on a less-busy night, babies and grandparents alike clamor for a position front-and-center at the garage door opening to point out the spinning ferris wheel and gliding ice skaters...

...while more visitors line up to sign the guest register and admire the photos of villages from years past.

It would be a remarkable tableau even without the Christmas music, fake snow, and Santa hats—but Masdea never bothered to ornament and animate any other holiday at this level. He says he was inspired by only "the birth of Jesus Christ."

In 1994, Masdea told the Los Angeles Times that he's the only one who has the patience to build and maintain the Christmas villages on this scale.

"When I die," he said, "this will die."

But that was 24 years ago—and since, his son Gianfranco has continued to stay involved and plans to pass the stewardship of the villages onto his own kids.

Together, they make sure someone is there every night of the season to open up the garage for visitors from 5 to about 10:30 p.m. Visit it while you can at 2351 Caper Tree Drive, Tustin, CA.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The High Desert's Crystal Cave
Photo Essay: Tiny Villages at the LA County Fairgrounds (Updated for 2018)

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