Every year during the holiday season, families enjoy their own traditions. When you become a parent, you can’t help but think back to your childhood holiday memories. If you’re me, you assess which activities were fun, which memories were amazing, and which traditions could be cut. I am a daughter of the ultimate stay-at-home-mother (SAHM), so I was blessed with a lot of fun, creative memories to choose from. When my brothers and I visited Santa, we were wearing matching homemade puffer paint Christmas sweatshirts. At the Christmas Eve candlelight service, my brothers were trying (not) to light each other on fire with their candles. In the blur of Christmas cookies and Christmas plays, one tradition stood out. It was my job to assist my beautiful, kind-hearted Granny with her Department 56 Original Snow Village set up. No other Christmas activity compared to this highly anticipated event.
Granny started buying her pieces in the 1990s, each one with meaning. She bought Glenhaven House because it was blue, just like the house she and Paw Paw lived in on Shakespeare Drive. She added Marvel’s Beauty Shop because she got her hair done every week (and to this day) without exception. She added Holiday Hoops basketball players in front of Christmas Lake High School because my brothers and cousins would play basketball in their driveway at every family function. Each piece represented a memory for our family, and my impressionable little girl self soaked up every moment. Plus, she let me “do the snow”. What kid doesn’t jump at the opportunity to make it snow?!
A few years ago, she gifted me her entire collection. I was ecstatic. My husband and I had our first baby and there were built-in cabinets in our new house- it was the perfect time in life to embrace a domestic life and carry on the Christmas tradition. In my mind, I would eventually relinquish creative control to my daughter, just as my granny had empowered me. Until then, I would be the sole Christmas Village curator.
A couple of years and two daughters later, I found myself having a rough summer. What should have been a somewhat routine medical procedure turned into three weeks of laying flat, which is just about impossible when raising three kids under four. It was a wait-it-out situation, as medical interventions offered limited relief. I relied on various apps to pass the time. I needed a coping skill, some version of comfort to fight the bleak vibes of the situation. As you well know, seeking a reprieve from hardship has been tricky in 2020-2021. Following politics and the current covid numbers was not going to help pass the time.
So what else is there to do when down and out in July? Why not research some Department 56? Or stumble upon Department 56 Collector Facebook groups? Suddenly I had a hobby, something that had escaped me in my years of being a mother. I learned about retired pieces, secondhand market pricing, and how nice Christmas Village dealers are. So much of what is online detracts from happiness, and I finally found something that was just pleasant. Also, this hobby is baby-friendly. My girls took turns snuggling with me to look at the pretty Christmas Village houses as we “shopped” on Mommy’s phone.
Therefore, our Christmas Village grew. We added On the Way to Ballet Class, because on Wednesdays, the babies and I sit in the car for an hour and a half, waiting for Evelyn’s dance class to end. We added Gracie’s Dry Goods and General Store because it features a bait shop. When you have a husband who is happiest fishing, and you find a Department 56 piece that has “shiners”, “fatheads”, and “crappies” painted on it, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. We were lucky enough to secure a Starbucks Coffee house, which serves as a tribute to the caffeinated tea that motivates this mama. We now have a streetcar, a nod to my 20s spent in NOLA. Plus, the streetcar moves. What kid doesn’t want to watch a streetcar pass in front of Christmas houses?
Full disclosure- there is a downside to Christmas Villaging. After Thanksgiving (or whenever you deem the beginning of the Christmas season for your family), it’s time to get out the boxes and start building your village. There’s a reason why “little old ladies” (as my daughter calls them) retire from their Villaging days and sell their beloved pieces to a more able-bodied generation. It’s an absurd amount of work! Where should the buildings go? How can I make the Birch Run Ski Chalet and the All Saints Church fit? How do you configure 24 lightbulbs? How do you hide the hideous wires? (Or in my case, can everyone just not look at the wires? This mom is really tired and is unwilling to do whatever one has to do to effectively hide the wires.) The day “we” (me- all me) build the village- it’s not fun. But add that to the list of holiday mom chores that aren’t fun. That list is long.
But then, it’s done! After many, many hours of being asked, “When is it time to do the trees and the snow?”, it’s time to place the trees and let Evelyn sprinkle the snow. And then I get to call my Granny and boast that her tradition is continued another year, and my daughters love it as much as I do. For the next six-ish weeks, I will stare at the Christmas village cozied up on the couch with my girls as they watch Bubble Guppies and Mickey’s Christmas Carol, for the fifth time that day.
Not everyone is going to understand or relate to Christmas Villaging. However, for those who village, it’s a magical thing. This year, I’ve learned it’s fun to have a hobby. Moms are, in fact, allowed to have hobbies- especially if the hobby can be conducted via your phone. I hope my girls love it as I much as I do when they get older. At this rate, they’ll have plenty to inherit one day.