By Jessica Meditz
The holiday season is a time when many people become more grateful for what they have, admire the little things in life and make their loved ones feel special through the art of gift giving.
Seventy-five-year-old Maspeth native Angelica Cotoia — better known as “Mrs. Maspeth” or “the bracelet lady,” wakes up and lives her life like this every day, and the holiday season is just another time to shine.
As an Italian and devout Christian, Cotoia is all about giving to others, keeping tradition and being thankful every day for God.
“I’ve been doing the bracelets for about seven years…I buy them and give them out. They have crosses on them,” Cotoia explained. “I give them to everybody, and there are times when people really need to feel God. I’ll pray with them.”
Each year for the past 15 years, Cotoia and her children work hard after the Thanksgiving holiday to transform their little corner of Maspeth, on Caldwell Avenue and 70th Street, into a winter wonderland.
Her home, easily spotted by its awning adorned with a cursive letter C, is decorated from top to bottom with multi-colored lights, lit-up candy canes at the entrance, a blow-up Santa Claus, snowman and Christmas tree, a wreath and most notably, in the center, a sign that reads “Jesus is the Reason.”
Her daughter, Christina Dimitropoulos, lives across the driveway from her mother on Caldwell Avenue. They embrace their neighborly setting with decorations that connect the two houses in the middle of the driveway.
Dimitropoulos’ home features a 20-foot blow-up statue of Bumble, the Abominable Snowmonster of the North from the Christmas classic, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” as well as a light-up sign that says “Celebrate Jesus!”
Her daughters, Paula Behling and Graceann Faulkner, and son Joey Cotoia, also live within the circle, taking part in the decorating tradition each year. Her son, Michael Cotoia, lives in Whitestone, but makes a regular appearance at their Sunday night dinners.
All six Cotoia children were born and raised in that original house on Caldwell Avenue, including Freddy Cotoia, who was killed in 2001.
“I lost a son, and I remember telling God, ‘Why did you do this to me? How come you did this to me?’ And God, in my spirit, told me, ‘I know how you feel because they killed my son, too,’” Cotoia said. “That took me to a new place…a place where I could deal with this. Now I’m to a point where I celebrate his life, and he is a part of this life — every single day.”
Freddy is a big part of why Cotoia feels it is essential to keep Christ in Christmas, along with her six grandchildren — all named after the Cotoia children — Michael, Joseph, Gracie, Freddy, Christina and Paula.
“We believe the gift from God was Jesus. because it opened the door for gates of heaven. He was a true gift, and that’s why people started to give out gifts,” Cotoia said. “It was just to show love, and God is love. There isn’t anything about God, that’s not love.”
The Cotoia family’s outdoor Christmas decorations are their way of giving a gift to the community during the holiday season, making others smile with special sights and kindness.
In the past before COVID, they would hire a man to sit outside the house and play Santa Claus and purchase gifts for local children. Locals would come to celebrate and donate, and those funds were given to charities, including Boston Children’s Hospital to support cancer research.
Cotoia said she would like to bring that level of community engagement back at a future time.
She’s proud to continue living in the community she’s always called home, and treasures her deep familial connections to Maspeth — exemplified by her family’s longtime businesses, such as Occhiogrosso’s Bakery, as well as her son Joey’s business, J. Cotoia Construction Inc., with the blue van that can be spotted all over town.
In fact, family legend has it that in its early days, this newspaper’s earliest editions were printed in the basement of Grosso’s Groceries on Grand Avenue in the ‘40s, which was owned by her grandparents.
“I really believe that my gift from God is not necessarily money, he gives me enough to pay my bills and I do, then I share with others,” Cotoia said. “He gave me children, grandchildren, in-law children and extended family that I can’t be anything more than grateful for.”