For more than three decades, Christmas in Nonantum meant strings of lights and a giant plastic Santa in Magni Park on Watertown Street.
The neighborhood's patron of the holiday, Anthony "Fat" Pellegrini, died in 2004. But his son, Anthony Jr., said this week that despite a family fight over his late father's charity, the tradition will go on as planned this year.
The Nonantum Children's Christmas Party Association has already started hanging lights and making repairs to Santa in advance of a planned Dec. 2 lighting ceremony in the park. In its heyday, the ceremony attracted thousands of people, but Pellegrini said he expected 400 or so to come this year.
"We're trying to do it the same way we've always done it," he said.
The association also plans to distribute about 180 fruit baskets to local elders, and 25 grocery-store gift certificates to hungry families. Its gala Christmas party for special-needs children will be held at Hibernian Hall in December, he said.
The charity was a beloved cause of Fat, who earned the nickname for being an especially skinny boy who grew into a sometimes bookie and unofficial mayor of the Lake - as insiders still call this working-class Italian neighborhood, so insular that it created its own special dialect of Italian, Romany, and 1930s street slang.
Fat was a fixture in Watertown Street coffee shops until his death at age 78 from lung cancer. He could often be seen standing on local sidewalks, collecting cash donations from passersby in an old cigar box.
His funeral at Our Lady Help of Christians Parish attracted nearly 1,000 people, including local dignitaries Newton Mayor David Cohen and Massachusetts Auditor Joe DeNucci, a childhood friend.
The battle over who should run the NCCPA erupted shortly after Fat's death between his widow, Camille Pellegrini, and a daughter from his first marriage, Linda Pellegrini Anderson, when the two went to court to control the group's assets, estimated at around $300,000, including an empty plot of land on Potter Road.
The two sides were supposed to run the charity together, but Camille's son, Dan Pellegrini, said Anderson has not consulted his mother on fund operations for years.
Anderson cut off retroactive payments to Camille for her work for the group, although Fat expressly said the payments should continue after his death, Dan Pellegrini said in a complaint letter recently filed with the Massachusetts attorney general's office.
Dan Pellegrini said he believes the charity's fund-raising efforts are minimal, and he questioned whether the lights were a good investment this year.
"I know Fat would say, 'Dump the Santa, dump the lights, and get that guy a wheelchair. Make sure that senior citizen gets food, and forget the other stuff,' " said Dan Pellegrini.
Anderson could not be reached for comment on the status of the fund, but Anthony Pellegrini Jr. said the other side of the family had not been in touch at all.
"They can come down any time they want. Anyone can come help us," he said. "We're all volunteers."
Arlington accountant David Blake, a longtime friend of Fat, said he was sorry to hear about the family feud.
"I know Fat would not be happy about the fighting," said Blake. "He was all about helping his neighbors."
Erica Noonan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.