North Natomas neighborhood glows with luminarias at holiday time

12/22/2012 12:00 AM

12/21/2012 11:02 PM

On the day after Thanksgiving every year, Thomas Yambaski's next-door neighbors peer into his backyard from their second-story window, anticipating when he'll unearth his boxes full of Christmas decorations.

When Yambaski sets up his 50-year-old Nativity set in the front yard, the neighbors on his North Natomas block know the holiday season has officially arrived.

"Tom is a little kid at heart when it comes to all of these decorations," said Yambaski's neighbor, Jeff Gallindo. "His love for it spills onto our kids' excitement."

For the 62-year-old Yambaski, the holiday season is much more than the elaborate assortment of Christmas lights, miniature angels and other festive decorations he places on the grass, shrubbery, and wooden fences around his home on Ainger Circle.

It's a spiritual time. Amid the decorations he's been collecting for years, including the Nativity set he purchased as a 12- or 13-year old, is a sign that reads "Jesus is the reason for the season."

Yambaski says his religious beliefs drive his love of the holidays.

The Detroit native recalls as a youngster going to three-hour Masses for Easter celebrations even when no one else in his family wanted to go, and he still attends midnight Mass every Christmas Eve.

"I'm a nostalgic type of guy," Yambaski said.

To Amber Savage, one of Yambaski's daughters, Christmas is just another opportunity for her father to affect other people's lives in a positive way, and share how much his faith has guided his life.

For Christmas Eve the past five years, Yambaski has welcomed all of the neighbors on his U-shaped block to join his family in lighting hundreds of luminarias, white paper bags filled with handfuls of sand and a small candle.

Last year, Gallindo recalls Yambaski's wife, Nancy, serving everyone hot cider while they placed the illuminated paper bags all over the neighborhood.

"I thought (the bags) went well with midnight Mass," said Yambaski, who regularly attends services at Natomas Crossroads Church.

Yambaski recalls that the event started with neighbors from four or five houses participating. Now it includes the entire street.

He welcomes the entire neighborhood to be a part of the experience.

"It was really fun to be united with the other side of the circle. We met people for the first time," said Kristine Gallindo, who has lived next door to the Yambaskis for 10 years.

Over the years community members from beyond the block have become involved.

"It keeps getting bigger and bigger," Jeff Gallindo said. "Cars drive by and start slowing down."

This year, Savage plans to bring snow down from her home in Washoe County in a pickup truck so neighborhood children can make snowmen.

The Yambaskis also have set up a donation barrel in front of their home for the Sacramento Food Bank. They are collecting clothing and nonperishable food items for needy families.

Savage recalls growing up giving back to the community, volunteering in homeless shelters several times.

For her father, "it's never been about the hustle and bustle," she said, tearing up. "It's his spirit, (it's) so selfless."

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