Posted on December 7, 2016 at 11:00am
Forget the Christmas tree and the decorations this holiday season. Something else as equally magical takes place in several of Cornwall’s houses. There, in basements or in living rooms, are erected Christmas villages.
By Francis Racine
Intricately placed and organized, these small lifelike models of houses, people, animals and stores garnish the attention of whoever crosses their paths. For one Cornwall family, the ritual of putting their annual Christmas has become a true festive tradition. “It’s even become some sort of an addiction,” joked patriarch Ghislain Mayer. “I always try to add on to my collection.”
Along with his daughter and his two sons, the man has erected a Christmas village, annually, for now close to 17 years. “I used to do it with them when they were very young,” he said, pointing to his daughter sitting next to her.
Emily Mayer is in her early twenties and has also been bitten with the Christmas village bug. “I love doing it,” she expressed gleefully. “It’s really become something we do every year. It brings us closer.”
In order to put up the many buildings and accessories, it takes the family members a whole two straight days. “It gives us the opportunity to spend quality time together,” highlighted Ghislain.
The family’s collection spreads the whole length of their basement. “One year, the village took over so much room that we had to have the Christmas tree half in the living room, half in the kitchen,” recalled Emily, smiling.
In order to be more space efficient, the family uses tiers, meaning their village is actually located on several levels. In addition to book stores, general stores, farms and the likes, the collection is also made up of fiber optic pieces, Ghislain’s favorites. “They change colors, which makes the whole village really light up,” he explained. “I have around six to seven of them.”
But the most sentimental part of his village isn’t new, far from it. “I think the best and most important part of the collection is a tree, about one and a half foot in height. It was given to me when my grandmother passed,” he said. “She made it herself, from scratch.”
The tree acts as the village’s centerpiece. “We build everything around it,” added Emily.
Establishing a yearly ritual
It is apparent Meghann Vogel keeps the cheer of Christmas close to her heart. In her living room is located a beautifully organized Christmas village. “I started doing a village around five years ago,” she said. “It all started when I saw the one my friend did. It was gorgeous and I absolutely loved it.”
When her friend retired, she bestowed upon Vogel her entire collection, which consisted of several buildings and accessories.
“She said it was too much work,” said the mother of two.
From then on, Vogel has routinely set up her village every year. “We try to set it up at the same time as the Christmas parade,” she said.
The centerpiece of her extricate village is a church with a massive steeple. “The steeple was made and painted by my friend,” she admitted. “It’s a wonderful piece and I love it.”
Every year, the mother purchases either one piece, or accessories. “I try to make it grow as much as I can,” she expressed.
So what is the next piece Vogel hopes to add to her collection? None other than a miniature train.
A tradition that is
older than people might think
The earliest Christmas villages were Nativity displays in homes and churches. Christians have been making and displaying statues that represent the birth of Jesus since the thirteenth century, if not earlier.
In many cultures, it was common to add, not only shepherds, sheep, donkeys, camels, and oxen, but also townspeople in contemporary dress.
Although initially placed beneath the Christmas tree, by the early 19th century, a family's Christmas village might have also been found on the fireplace mantel, side tables, and other prominent places within the home.