For much of his life, Sam Sansalone appreciated Christmas lights for their glitter and shine, their bright tribute to the holiday season and the way they made him feel.
In his second year of putting together an online map to show people where they can find the best lights of Hampton Roads, Sansalone is discovering there is much more to many of the displays.
With some, he's finding the back stories, tales of family tradition or tributes to family and friends, homages to those no longer with us.
"I've been getting so many stories from people telling me about their lights and why they do them the way they do," said the Virginia Beach realtor. "Some of them have been doing them for decades because it's what their family has always done.
"It's so inspirational. My wife and I have gone to some of the houses after hearing the stories and cried because they are amazing."
One display that really struck the couple was at a Kempsville Lakes townhouse, where a woman was honoring her mother and keeping her memory alive for her daughter.
"It wasn't much really, but the story of why she was doing it was important," Sansalone said. "Christmas was her mom's favorite time of year, so she was going to keep doing it so that her daughter remembered her grandmother's love for the holiday."
Sansalone said at numerous homes families have been putting up their displays for decades. Then there are the neighborhoods where every house participates in a friendly contest that lights up their world – like the near-famous one on 43rd Street at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
He's wants to start sharing the stories on either his website or Facebook page.
"I want people to hear about the stories before they go out and see the lights so they'll understand the passion," he said. "But right now I've just been so busy updating the map for the holiday."
Sansalone and wife Kim started the Google Maps light finder last year because of his love of Christmas lights. They'd drive around looking, he said, and she'd document locations and quality of the displays.
At season's end, they had thumbtacked 226 locations onto the map. So far this year, nearly 300 locations are already listed.
The map is growing in size as well as numbers, as Sansalone is starting to list some displays in northeastern North Carolina, western Tidewater, the Peninsula and the Eastern Shore.
Sansalone keeps other information on a Facebook page. Some homeowners are offering free pictures with Santa, hot chocolate and Christmas caroling. He's thinking of coming up with awards for some.
"There are about seven or eight that are really awesome. Professionally done," he said. "And one was on the television show Great Christmas Light Fight. So I'm looking to highlight some of the others that are pretty awesome, but maybe not quite to that level.
"I never thought it would get as big as it has gotten. I guess I'll be doing this for a long time."
Sansalone's map and links to his Facebook page can be found at bit.ly/2zZBYfp