Gayle Benedictson spends roughly 80 hours a year preparing her home for Christmas, meticulously placing thousands of decorations around her home to express her love of the season.
Her fascination with Christmas has been a lifelong love and for 15 years she has decorated her house with every possible fashion of Christmas décor. Each room in the house is dedicated to a different theme, and Benedictson loves to display her collection to friends and family.
“Christmas has always sort of fascinated me. I think the feeling that you get at this time of year to share with people, and the joy it brings are what I enjoy. I see people come in here, and they are just mind-boggled and their eyes light up,” she said.
“People are amazed. It’s gotten a little bigger every year and we have people that come each year to see it. They enjoy the collection and we enjoy showing it off.”
Gayle and her husband Cliff have collected ornaments and decorations from places such as Peru, Australia, Germany, Mexico, parts of Africa and even Norway. Gayle says that for every country they have traveled to, she has searched for a new decoration to bring into her home and add to the collection.
Gayle has been called Mrs. Claus more than once, and said that sometimes she will even be introduced to young children as such.
Each decoration that usually is featured in the home is taken down in November and replaced with something festive. The process takes over two weeks and is done each year.
“I think the biggest thing about Christmas is the sharing and the feeling you get. I’m at my happiest in this season when we have a house full of people. For me, that’s what Christmas is. It’s people sharing people, and sharing the joy and the feeling of this house with other people. That, to me, is such a big part of it,” she said.
“I have many siblings so as we grew up, even though money was tight, Christmas was always a big thing. It’s more than just gifts – it’s the spirit, the feeling, being with family and friends – all of it.”
The entrance of the home is striking. Immediately, visitors would see an 11-ft. Christmas tree, a large collection of snowmen in the foyer – which Gayle refers to as the snowmen choir – and other festive decorations such as wreaths and holiday fabrics. As one moves through the home, they would see an elf room, a deer/moose room, an angel room, a nutcracker bathroom, a gathering of nativity scenes and a fully decorated kitchen.
The basement of the home is devoted to Santa Claus in every colour, shape and form. Gayle said the Santa room alone takes roughly 20 hours to set up.
“It takes about 80 hours to get everything out. It starts with taking the bins out and putting them in each room. The basement (Santa room) has about six bins and four big boxes. Upstairs has about four bins. Once the bins are placed, then it becomes a matter of taking apart and taking down all the regular decorations and putting them away. I start unpacking the bins and go from room to room until I’m done,” said Gayle.
“Where the Santas are, there are a bunch of paintings and carvings that have to be packed away carefully.
“Then there are usually things all over the bookcase that have to get put away. The ledges have stuff on them all year, and all of that has to go away.”
Although each room has a theme, they each also contain a Christmas tree and a nativity scene.
“The nativity scene is really the basis for why we have Christmas. In our house, every room has a nativity scene – at least one. Every room has a tree. Some are very small, though. They’re just so important. The nativity scene is what Christmas is all about but the tree is a symbol of Christmas,” Gayle said.
Cliff is not near the enthusiast that his wife is, although he still enjoys the season. He has even contributed a few select pieces to the epic collection.
“When I was growing up, there was probably more emphasis on the reason for the season, and that’s what I still enjoy. We have a few ‘reason for the season’ decorations and I think that’s important for people to think about at Christmas time,” Cliff said.
“To me, it’s about families getting together and sharing dinner, which maybe they don’t often get to do. I think it’s about friends coming in and enjoying each other. For me, Christmas is a personal time. I hope everybody takes the time to spend time and enjoy and love each other and not worry about the glitter and gifts.”
The Benedictsons have an impressive collection of holiday items that fill the home, from dishes to clothing to ornaments to books. For both Gayle and Cliff, it is enjoyable to share their home with visitors and friends and family, but the essence of the holiday’s origin is at the centre of their focus.
Both said that while they love the festive decorations, the best part of it all is simply being able to share it with others.