It is not uncommon to see the changeover from hordes of Halloween decorations – ghouls, goblins and gravestones – to Christmas paraphernalia – Santas, snowmen and silver bells – happen almost instantaneously in shopping malls. Children have not yet finished sorting their trick-or-treating loot when the first Christmas tree is standing proudly in a store window.
While this might seem like a marketing ploy to some, it is simply the way of life for Elmira’s Gloria Lillico.
“I start putting up the decorations in the first week of November,” said the mother of two boys and grandmother to three more. “I do a little bit at a time, until it is all up and ready.”
And even with two months to prepare, Lillico’s decorative efforts are no small feat. The living room of her
Birdland home is lined, several rows deep, with statues of snowmen, Santa Claus, angels and perhaps the most impressive part; the ‘village,’ a community of more than 100 Christmas-themed houses that fill a table at one end of the room.
“Some of the first ornaments came over with me from England when I moved here in 1978,” said Lillico of the collection’s origin. “And I have just kept adding to them. I have picked up a few here and there each year for between 25 and 30 years. It just keeps growing.”
And despite the living room, kitchen, spare room and even bathroom being donned with festive gear, Lillico still has some ornaments leftover, many of which are stored in the basement.
“The question that people always ask me is where the ornaments go when it’s not Christmastime,” said Lillico.
“Well I tell them that I have fruit shelves which are not used as fruit shelves anymore. Some of the Santas go underneath a workbench, or into an old suitcase. Some way or another, they all find their place.”
But she doesn’t mind the job of packing and unpacking all the ornaments. Christmas is one of her favourite times of year so starting the festive season early and finding places for each piece is a challenge she enjoys.
“Each one has their own story, their own reason for being there,” she explained. “I have one that reads ‘Twas the night before Christmas’ when you turn it on. I had a friend who used to read that story every year and each time I turn it on, it reminds me of him.”
Each area of the room has a designated theme, with ornaments ranging from gingerbread houses, to Santas of all sizes, cardinals, soccer balls, snowmen, lighthouses, England and cats, to name a few. Many of the pieces light up, make noise and move to the tune of a Christmas carol.
“I would say I use between 50 and 60 batteries each year, easily,” said Lillico. “But each year I take them out and I save them so I don’t need to go out and get more the next year.”
And despite the effort it takes to get all the ornaments in their proper place, Lillico says her time is very well spent, something she is sure of every year when visitors come to her house and their faces light up with amazement at the display.
“That is one of my favourite things about Christmas – I like to watch the children’s faces. They get so excited. They are what make Christmas special.”
Her own family will be getting together over the holiday and even though her grandsons are teenagers now, she looks forward to inviting them over to her home.
Her family traditions remind her of one particular Christmas Eve when she recalls settling in for bed one night, having forgotten to turn off the Christmas ornaments. As many of her decorations are clocks, she was startled awake by the medley of bells, whistles and ‘Ho Ho Hos’ echoing from her living room on the mark of the hour.
“I didn’t mind it at all,” she said. “I had to laugh because I go into the living room and it’s all lit up and colorful. I think Christmas is a special time of year, it’s a happy time.”