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This Man Built A Massive Christmas Village Inside A Regular Sized Garage

A man wit short white hair stands in front of a massive display of miniature Christmas houses.
Dominico Masdea, 70, in front of his Christmas Village. He builds the village every year in his Tustin garage
(Audrey Ngo
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Christmas has exploded inside a garage in Tustin.

Dominico Masdea, a 70-year-old former machinist, has built an extensive holiday world that includes a tiny carnival, a waterfall and a nativity scene. There are pint-size plastic trees. There are ceramic houses. There are townsfolk. The whole thing is covered in fake snow.

The village is Masdea's annual project. He works on it for more than a month and he's done it for 35 years, including the years he had stage four nose and throat cancer.

"I enjoy [doing] it," Masdea says. "I get tired, but I know it will come out beautiful."

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Masdea is from Calabria in southern Italy. When he was a boy, he would help build the nativity scene at his church there -- with some added added flare.

"We used to put the waterfall in the nativity," Masdea says, "so that's where I got the idea."

His vision started with just two sheets of plywood in the kitchen. His son, Gianfranco Masdea, remembers coming home from school to that first village -- a surprise array of pasta and cereal boxes transformed.

"Any type of box that he could find," Gianfranco says, "he would convert it, cut windows in it, doors in it, put roofs on it, paint everything, and make them look like houses."

Photo by Audrey Ngo/KPCC

In the early 1990s, the project became too big to stay inside, so Masdea moved it to his garage and invited family and close friends to marvel at his village. Since then, Masdea says thousands of people have come to see his winter wonderland, including friends, people on tour buses and locals who found out about it through word of mouth.

Jessica Crow is Masdea's neighbor, and she's made the village a family tradition for the past five years.

"[I come for] the magic, the joy that it brings to people," she says.

One of the display's most notable features is an angel figurine that's suspended on a string and flies from one end of the village to the other. Then there's the carnival with ceramic patrons, a carousel and a ferris wheel with tiny white lights.

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A standout every year is the paper volcano, a nod to Italy. Smoke rises from its top in a misty fog while red lights bounce off a mylar sheet, which rotates downward to simulate flowing lava.

With everything that goes into this elaborate scene, people have suggested that Masdea charge admission to see the village. But that's not part of his plan.

"We'd rather help the community out, and people that are less fortunate," Masdea's son Gianfranco says.

If visitors want to contribute to Masdea's work, he asks that they bring a canned good. After the holidays, he sends all donations to Second Harvest food bank in Irvine. Masdea says last year, 3,400 pounds of non-perishable items were donated from his visitors.

As popularity for the Christmas Village grows, there's the looming question of how many more years Masdea will be able to carry on the tradition of building it.

Luckily, he's not the only one who knows how to put it all together. It's been a father-son project since Gianfranco was a kid.

Nearly a decade ago, during Masdea's last battle with cancer, he needed some assistance to get the village up and running. Gianfranco stepped in, and built the wintery scene under his father's supervision.

"I just could not go a Christmas without it," Gianfranco says. "I had to make sure that his dream was fulfilled that year."

Gianfranco has his own family now, with two small children -- a boy and a girl -- who may become the next generation of village architects.

"I would love to have them help me," Gianfranco says. "Just to keep the tradition alive."

Dominico Masdea's Christmas Village will be on display until Jan. 6, 2019. His address is 2351 Caper Tree Drive in Tustin.

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