Some people decorate their homes for Christmas so intensely that they have people begging them to come have a look. And then, they have so many people who want to have a look at their Christmas home, that they host tours and open houses and use it as an opportunity to collect toys and food for charity.
Marilyn Hartung and her husband Richard Hartung love decorating their St. Clements-area home for Christmas. In fact, they love it so much that for about ten years now, they’ve been hosting these tours of their home to collect items for the Knights of Columbus toy drive.
Bev Lorentz has collected Christmas decorations for decades, and this was her third year hosting an open house to collect food for the food bank. She says she collected three large boxes full of food.
“Different people know I do this,” she said. “People say they’d love to see my house because they know I’m really into it.”
“I’m Christmas,” she said. “Anybody that knows me, (when they see me) says, ‘Here comes Christmas!’”
Lorentz has no less than six Christmas trees in her home, one for each member of her immediate family. Each tree and room has a theme: cardinals, angels, feathers, bells, peacocks and Santas. Every surface of her home is covered in Christmas decorations, many of them light up and sing. Lorentz said it takes her three weeks straight to decorate, and when the season’s over, it will all get stored under the stairs, in a shed outside and in the totes that line the walls of her basement storage room.
For Lorentz, it’s clear that Christmas decorating is a labour of love that keeps her close with her family and community. She says she’s pretty much ready for Christmas, the only thing left to do is her custom of changing her voicemail message to her personal rendition of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” which she says she’s done every year for about 30 years.
Upon entering the Hartung Christmas Cottage and hanging your coat up at the convenient coat rack by the door, first up is the Elvis room. This area is decked out from floor to ceiling with Elvis paraphernalia and Elvis-themed Christmas decorations including a tree covered in Elvis-ornaments that light up and sing; some of them quite old.
Then comes the cozy living room complete with a fireplace scene in the fireplace, dolls and a pillow Marilyn inherited from her mother that’s 100 years old, still in pristine condition.
Next, guests are guided to the dining room which is dominated by the dining table set up for a Victorian meal. The table is crowned with a pineapple, which Marilyn says was a symbol of welcome in Victorian times. This is where she hosts Christmas ladies’ tea.
Marilyn used to play the pump organ at the Doon Heritage Village and loves the old way of life. She speaks about the Christmas traditions of the old times: the nut cracking and the plum pudding with the buttons and money baked in. If your piece of pudding had a button in it, you were doomed to be an old maid, if a thimble, a spinster, if money you were destined to be wealthy and if you found a ring, you could expect to soon be engaged, she said.
The dining room is followed by the music and sun rooms, all of them filled with Christmas-themed pieces such as stuffed dolls, Santas, musical toys, singing things, some items are new gifts from family members, others ancient toys of 80 years old that are still in excellent working condition.
“We usually buy something every year that plays music or sings or talks,” she said.
Marilyn says she started her Christmas cottage tradition in honour of her mother who had loved decorating for Christmas with homemade decorations of paper rings and strung cranberries and making Christmas treats for everyone, including mashed potato chocolates. She tenderly shows off old photos of her mother as a young woman and other photos of family heritage.
“I started doing this about ten years ago,” she said. “We started doing tours because I had so much and I wanted to share it with other people. And for the kids,” she said.
The tours, teas and open houses she hosts are by invitation only and through them she collects unwrapped toys for the Knights of Columbus toy drive. During the pandemic, she held off hosting, but she is excited to be open again.