By Karen Brainard
Walking into Dennis and Ellen Sargent’s home during the holidays is like entering a Christmas shop.
It’s not just the Ramona couple’s showpiece Christmas village that consumes nearly half their living room. There are also four decorated Christmas trees, collectibles such as San Francisco music boxes, doorways bedecked with greenery, lights and shiny colorful ornaments, and shelves of seasonal figures of which many are mechanical. Additional Christmas village pieces are set up on ledges above doorways and on kitchen counters.
“My favorite time of the year,” said Ellen. “I just like the festivities that go on.”
Those festivities include setting up their Department 56 Snow Village of at least 100 pieces and countless accessories and figurines, and then inviting groups over to see the display, which changes every year.
This year, in addition to a party they held for friends and neighbors, and another one for fellow parishioners, the
Sargents invited a new group over to see and celebrate their latest Snow Village piece -- a Harley Davidson shop. Through a friend, they invited a Harley Davidson group and when many of the motorcycle riders saw the display, they took out their cameras, Ellen said.
“When someone new comes in, it’s really fun to watch their reaction,” Ellen said.
“Every year it’s designed differently,” said Dennis, who does the framework for the display. “I have to cut boards...and make everything fit tight.”
This year the festive miniature village is displayed on a low tabletop setting measuring six feet wide and about 22 feet long with two additional tiers rising in the center where Dennis built a frame around an old upright piano. Running around the base of the tiers that are topped with mountainous backdrops and rustic buildings is the Department 56 train.
The Sargents have been collecting the Snow Village pieces for about 23 years, after starting with the Cumberland House.
“Most of the pieces are retired,” noted Ellen. They continue to purchase more each year, although Ellen commented, “We’re running out of room.”
For their main exhibit, the Sargents only use items from the Snow Village collection and are selective about what they buy.
“It has to hit me,” said Ellen. “I don’t buy a piece I don’t like.”
Many of the pieces were purchased from City Lights in San Diego where the couple worked for two holiday seasons. There they met Department 56 representatives and had pieces signed by the designers.
“It was a lot of fun. You meet a lot of great people,” Ellen said, adding “you really work.”
Pointing to their trailer park area, where a “Merry Christmas” sign flashes above a trailer, Ellen said she suggested to a Department 56 representative that they design a motor home, as the Sargents own one. It takes two to five years for a new design to come on the market, she said.
They group their collection by themes. A residential area is down the street from a village that includes a diner, butcher shop, bakery, pool hall, motel, quilt shop, gas station, and fire and police stations. Houses, shops and trees are decorated with lights and flecked with snow as bundled villagers go about their business. Among the more unusual pieces are a greenhouse and a junkyard
To put it together is a labor of love, a collaboration between husband and wife, who normally start organizing it in October but began in September this year, because they had scheduled a cruise in the fall. The Sargents said if they worked seven to eight hours a day, it would take about two weeks to put it together. Instead they work about two hours at a time. She positions the buildings and he works on the wiring. One switch and the entire display lights up.
The display will probably stay up until February, they said, noting they like to sit in the living room and look at it all lit up.
“If I put it up, I want to enjoy it for a long time,” said Ellen.