My friend Beth had spoke lovingly of her father’s Christmas village. It sounded magical and I was intrigued. So last year when our son became fascinated with villages and insisted on carefully inspecting the villages on display at each store we visited, I wondered if we could see her dad’s miniature wonderland for ourselves. So I asked Beth if her dad was still doing the village and if we could visit.
He welcomed the opportunity to share his creation. And it was truly magic. Our son loved it, but truth be told I wanted to lay on the floor and get lost in this little land. This perfect imaginary place carefully constructed beneath his Christmas tree was filled with countless fun details. You could look and look and never see it all. We pointed and oohed and smiled child-like smiles.
As wonderful as the village was, the story of what inspired it is even better. Bob grew up in the 1920s in Pennsylvania where his neighborhood had an amazing Christmas tradition. His mother and other neighbors would cover front porch windows with sheets after Thanksgiving, once their porches were veiled in secrecy the decorating began. Can you imagine the anticipation of children in that neighborhood? The world as they knew it wrapped up like a present. Upon completion the sheets were taken down and the neighbors would mingle around to see what everyone had done. It must have looked like one of those magical collectible Christmas village scene complete with snow covered rooftops, the warm glow of twinkling lights, and frolicking children.
Bob moved to Minnesota, where he and his wife lived in St. Paul. Together they raised ten children. Bob worked as a machinist and ornamental iron worker, and in his spare time built a house in Stillwater, where he still lives today. While the tradition of neighborhood porch decorating didn’t continue, a magical Christmas tradition did evolve.
The tradition of a Christmas village took shape. They started collecting a piece here and there, some pieces came as gifts, others souvenirs from trips, some buildings carefully constructed of painted cereal boxes and over time it grew. Now in his early nineties it is a difficult undertaking to get the village out, crouch under the tree to set up the intricate scene and lights. Apparently, the transformers for the lights are a real hassle. (Isn’t it always the case that fighting with the Christmas lights can suck the Christmas spirit right out of you?) Yet he perseveres. While crawling around on old knees makes him feel every bit his age, I suspect once it is done, he feels like a kid again.
I’m certain the village brings back a flood of memories from childhood to those of his late wife. It is a time capsule. A perfect little place where everyone is smiling and Christmas is always white. He welcomed my family into his home to share this magical place and I’m grateful to have had the chance to visit such a place and meet its builder. He gave our son a hand-crafted log cabin. The roof is painted white and is removable, you can burn incense inside if you want smoke billowing from the chimney. It will be treasured. It has served as the cornerstone of our modest village. We spent the summer picking up peppermint paths and little buildings in hopes of creating our own magical place.