CLIFTON — Clifton Mill again pulled the switch that lights the more than three million lights at the popular holiday destination property, gift shop and restaurant on Nov. 25.
The Satarianos are the sixth owners of the mill. They purchased it in 1987. Anthony Satariano’s father retired and looked forward to running the already-existent gift and snack shop out of the mill. The same year they purchased the property, they began to display the Christmas lights. Starting with 100,000 bulbs, it has expanded, either subtly or in a large manner, each year since.
“Christmas started from my father; he was always big into holidays, but Christmas in particular,” Satariano said. “We bought the mill, we were here one night and my father said ‘lets put some Christmas lights on this. We own this beautiful piece of property, let’s decorate it.’”
Satariano, along with five other individuals hang the lights themselves beginning in September. The lights are completed by November.
“What I enjoy is now getting young families who walk up and say ‘when I was a kid, my mom and dad brought me, now we’re bringing our children’ — I’m seeing second and third generations — that’s how long I’ve been doing this,” Satariano said. “It reinforces in my mind that somewhere out there, Clifton Mill is in someone’s family scrapbook. I am their holiday tradition.”
The restaurant took off in 1988, and offers breakfast food all day long, including 12-inch pancakes that can cover a dinner plate. It offers concession-style food, including soup, hotdogs and cocoa, while the lights are displayed. The recipes are family-owned, or came with the mill itself. The Restaurant and Gift Shop are open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 25 through Dec. 31 and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. They will be closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.
According to the Mill website, the old covered bridge is offered in addition to the The Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill. The bridge, its windows, roof, sides and bottom are covered in lights of various colors as are pseudo trees which flank the bridge. Every hour, on the hour, all 3.5 million lights at Clifton Mill go out leaving guests in total darkness.
Traditional Christmas songs and some of the lights on the covered bridge begin to twinkle on and then off again. As the music builds and builds, more and more lights on the covered bridge blink off and on in time to the music, lights on the pseudo trees swirl around and change color in a way that seems impossible. By the end of the song, the music is booming through Clifton Gorge. Then the music ends and the bridge lights all go out, once again leaving guests in total darkness. Then, before most spectators can catch their breath, 3.5 million lights come on again all at once.
Clifton Mill has an outdoor miniature village on display during the season. The miniature village has recreations of many of Clifton’s historic buildings plus a 1950s diner, a light parade going down the main street and two trains that go around the village and across a covered bridge on the mill race stream. On the outskirts of the village there is a drive-in movie theatre that shows old film clips, a frozen pond with ice skaters, a football game in progress and a country fair with moving bumper cars and Ferris wheel.
The Santa Claus Museum houses the private collection of the Satariano family which has taken nearly 40 years to amass. There are more than 3,000 examples of Santa Claus on display dating from as far back as 1850. There are mechanical items, toys and some are advertising items. The nostalgic Toy Collection features gifts of Christmas’ past.
The light display starts the day after Thanksgiving and is on every night through Dec. 31. Gates open every day at 5 p.m. the lights come on at 6 p.m. Gates close at 9 p.m. and lights go off about 30 minutes after gates close. On Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Eve the location closes at 8 pm. Clifton Mill is located at 75 Water St.