Vito Caputo tree lighting is a Flushing tradition

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Vito Caputo and his Christmas tree have developed a reputation.

Every year dozens of neighbors gather at the lighting of his Flushing tree, now close to 30 feet tall.

“When the lighting comes on, we clap, we cheer, just like at Rockefeller Center,” said Sophie Rallis, a neighbor of Caputo, who lives at the corner of 35th Avenue and 164th Street.

For Caputo, the lighting of the tree is an old tradition. After emigrating from Bari, Italy as a teenager, Caputo, now 63, met his wife, Maria, in Astoria and moved to Flushing in 1971.

Two years after arriving in Flushing, Caputo lit the tree for the first time in his front yard. It was then about five feet tall, and Caputo was able to decorate it easily.

Since then, the evergreen has shot up to the height of the attic of his house. Lighting the tree every year, Caputo has had to slowly change his methods.

“I made some type of gizmo, and I use my extension ladder,” he said.

Caputo, a retired electrician, explained that he uses the ladder, which is almost as tall as the tree, to reach the top, then uses the “gizmo” he created — a bar with a clamp on the end — to carefully place the lights on the tree.

Caputo said he put up 750 lights this year.

“It is difficult,” said Caputo. “The tree gets taller, so it’s hard to handle.”

This year, the task has been even harder for Caputo. He has been diagnosed with cancer of the lymphoma and is involved in a chemotherapy regime. Over Thanksgiving, Caputo was in the hospital, but he left determined to keep up the tradition of the tree lighting.

“Mostly I did it this year because I have a new grandchild, Isaiah,” said Caputo. “I did it for him.”

In years past, Caputo has managed to decorate the tree in one single day. But because of the cancer treatment, the job took him three days, and Caputo had to ask for a bit of help.

“He gets tired,” said his wife, Maria. “This year it took him a few days.”

Nevertheless, Maria Caputo found this year’s celebration a success.

“It’s very beautiful,” she said. “He’s so proud and excited.”

Rallis said the lighting, which usually brings about 20 neighbors, shows the friendliness of the neighborhood.

“It’s like a family group here,” said Rallis. “We’re all of different backgrounds and we all get along here. He’s Italian, I’m Greek, and we have Irish and Asians, too.”

Marion Locantore, a cousin of Caputo who lives up the block, arranged to have the neighbors sign a card for him, thanking him for the lighting.

“He just wanted to come home to do that tree, and he got it done,” she said.

Caputo is already making plans to light the tree next year.

“Next year, maybe we’ll do something a little different,” he said.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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