Santa Claus better watch out, because there’s one Michigander who is bringing the holiday cheer to town — and he’s slowly transforming a Macomb County subdivision into a winter wonderland one house at a time.
AJ Vultaggio, 18, has loved decorating since he can remember.
“At home, my parents, we used to decorate a lot, it looked really nice and I always remember having such good times with them,” said AJ. “It’s always been such a positive thing in my life, decorating, that’s why I enjoy doing it so much.”
What started as a family affair slowly started to expand after AJ began making money mowing lawns in the summer. His earnings went to fueling his love for decorations and he’d go out shopping with his grandpa.
“I’d buy stuff every year and eventually it started to really accumulate,” said AJ.
Soon, people began to take notice of his Griswold magical touch.
Perri Kern said it was AJ’s holiday decorating that actually attracted them to the lot next door in the Pinnacle Woods subdivision when they were searching to build a house.
“It just looked like they should be a fun family,” said Perri.
So, six years ago they purchased the lot and moved in next door, telling AJ that if he wanted to expand his display, he was more than welcome to use their yard.
“They knew that I had extra decorations and we’d joke around and they always said, ‘you can extend over,’” said AJ. “So, in 2016, I ended up doing their yard.”
It was a gesture that meant a lot to the Kern family; after enduring a loss in the family and being down in Florida for a month, Perri recalls one particular trip home.
“We came home the one year and he had our whole house . . . everything lit up — just a very welcome home feeling,” she said.
After that, it wasn’t long before a third neighbor inquired. AJ said his other neighbor asked, “Why don’t you just take it on, one more house?”
AJ then started decorated three houses every year: his family’s place and the houses of his two very grateful neighbors side-by-side.
He even started expanding the tradition to Halloween.
“He will be out there literally every day off, after work, in between classes,” said Nicole Vigneau, AJ’s neighbor. “We just give him our garage door code.”
Nicole said AJ gets really into it every year and loves bringing joy to others.
“He’s a good, good kid,” she said.
Perri echoed the sentiment.
“AJ’s got that sparkle in his eye,” she said. “He’s not doing it for himself, he’s doing it for everybody else, he has a huge heart.”
Perri said AJ plans year-round, noting that they will discuss Christmas décor in July and that the families always consult him before making a purchase for the display. AJ said he starting working on this year’s multi-house display on Nov. 2.
“It took me almost the whole month,” said AJ. “On my days off, I was getting up around 6 a.m. and I’d go out there and start working on it.”
He fits in all of his hard decorating work while also juggling virtual classes, studying manufacturing, engineering and technology, and product development.
The neighbors say cars drive by faithfully to see the lights and display. Perri said there is one family where the “kids have to come by every night to see Santa.”
The magic won’t likely leave once AJ finishes college, as he said he doesn’t think his love for decorating is going to stop anytime soon.
“My favorite part about doing all of this is I love seeing the people’s reactions. People come from all over and you just see their faces light up,” said AJ. “It makes it all worth it just for that. I get so much enjoyment just lighting people up and getting them into the spirit of the season.”