Jack Kazanzas’ devotion to the Christmas Star may not have been widely understood but it won’t be forgotten.
For many years, during Thanksgiving week, the two met at the same intersection downtown—Jack Kazanzas and his 600-pound friend. Kazanzas would wear his best elf’s hat; his pal was always decked out in bright yellow.
This year, Kazanzas won’t be there—he died in late August at age 80—but the iconic yellow Christmas Star that he twice helped save from the scrap heap will be hoisted as usual at Orange Avenue and Central Boulevard.
In 1984, Kazanzas led a fundraising effort to replicate the star, which had been disposed of during the late 1960s after adorning downtown for more than 20 holiday seasons. Fourteen years later, Kazanzas came to the star’s rescue again, when city officials sought to replace it with a high-tech wreath.
“It just burns me up that everything has to be constantly changing,” Kazanzas told the Orlando Sentinel in 1998 as he fought to save the star.
For Kazanzas and anyone he could recruit to come downtown, the annual hoisting and lighting of the Christmas Star was a festive kickoff to the holiday season. He always brought along bagels and coffee for the Orlando Utilities Commission workers putting up the star. (OUC says it will put up the star on Nov. 21.)
Kazanzas’ devotion to the star was as peculiar as his personality. One evening he might chide you for being improperly attired for dinner; the next afternoon he’d be spotted watering his front lawn, dressed only in a Speedo. Some friends he pestered to join him at the star’s annual lighting couldn’t understand why he made such a fuss over an archaic decoration. But once they arrived at his five-room Winter Park bungalow for one of his many soirees, including the final bash he threw posthumously with his own money, they got a glimpse into Kazanzas’ soft spot for the old and forgotten: The tiny home, which he had given the antebellum name of Twin Oaks, was crammed floor to ceiling with antique lamps, chiming clocks, vintage photos and assorted tchotchkes.
The centerpiece at Kazanzas’ wake was a framed proclamation by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer declaring the day that the star goes up as Jack Kazanzas Day and renaming the star after the native Orlandoan. The Aug. 23 proclamation cited Kazanzas’ “personal and tireless crusade” to preserve the star’s presence in Orlando.
Jim Barrett, a longtime friend, was Kazanzas’ caregiver during the final weeks of his struggle with a blood disorder. Although Kazanzas drifted in and out of consciousness, Barrett says his friend was aware of Dyer’s proclamation when it arrived at Twin Oaks. “You could see it in his eyes,” says Barrett.