Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Berkey Family Christmas Village

Today we feature a dear friend of mine as our esteemed guest writer. Take it away, Heather! 

Well, here we are, with the holiday season in full swing! I don’t know about you, but I love it. I really do. I love Christmas music, I love buying gifts (which would be more fun if I had money…but still..), I love those sappy, crappy Christmas movies and will rarely tolerate anything else on my TV during the month of December. And I LOVE my decorations. They’re not expensive or elite, they don’t match, and they often get swallowed up by the clutter that inevitably takes over my house, but I’m crazy about them. I could tell you the origin of every single ornament on my Christmas tree, but I won’t. At least not today. Our lovely friend Starr has instead asked me to guest-blog about my Christmas Village.

Aaah, my Christmas Village. I’m admittedly pretty obsessed with it. I start pining for it around September, but my husband rolls his eyes and tells me I can’t put it up until after Thanksgiving. Meanie. It’s actually his family’s fault that I have a village to obsess about in the first place. His grandmother had the most impressive Christmas Village that I’ve ever seen. It sprawled out from under her Christmas tree, over hills and valleys made by cardboard boxes covered with snow blankets, and took up half of her living room. Man, it was awesome. When Grandma Berkey passed away, we inherited a few pieces of her Village collection – a train, a house, a church, a tavern, and a jail. We specifically got the church and the tavern because when my husband was a smart-ass kid helping his grandma put the village up, he thought it was funny to put the church and the tavern next to each other. Then Grandma (who didn’t approve of drinking at all) would hit him with a yardstick and make him move them apart. So this is where it all started, with those four buildings, which I proudly arranged under my tree the first year Mike and I were married. In the eleven years that have followed, my village has expanded quite a bit. I’m incurably cheap – no, frugal. Frugal sounds better – about buying stuff for it. My favorite place to look for pieces is Big Lots.  In recent years, I’ve even found some cute things at the dollar store! My sister supports my obsession by shopping the after Christmas clearance sales at Kohl’s. Those clearance sales are key to Village expansion.

Ok, enough talk. I know you’re positively dying to see the Village as it is today. You’re in luck, because I took lots of pictures. I can’t put the Village on the floor anymore because of lack of floor space, unruly pets, and my four-year-old daughter who loves to “rearrange” things. If I had a mantel, maybe I’d put it there. Right, Starr? But I don’t, so it goes on the shelves surrounding the most important thing in my living room: the TV. Here’s the village in its entirety:

I put in the Yule Log DVD for a more festive, mantel-like atmosphere. The stereo is Mike’s. It’s not festive at all, is it? I should hit him with a yardstick and make him put garland on it or something. The nativity there on the right side was MY grandma’s. Oh, the nostalgia of it all!!! The things on the bottom shelves are less sentimental, less breakable items that my daughter plays with and rearranges on a daily basis. The town itself is divided up into several well-planned sections. It takes me like an entire day to get everything arranged the way I want it. Who cares if my family needs dinner? I need to decide where the new clock tower is going!! All right, now for the shelf-by-shelf tour.

This is the downtown area. There’s a barber shop, kids visiting Santa, a chocolate shoppe, a toy store, an antique store/café. When you turn Santa on, the kids in line move around in a circle and a light flashes on the photographer’s camera every few seconds. Wait, I think that sounds really dirty. Turning Santa on and taking pictures? Maybe it’s best if we just move on….

This is the residential section of town. That’s Grandma Berkey’s church there on the top. You’ll notice that the tavern is nowhere in sight. I don’t let Mike help put the Village up. The house in the bottom right corner is also one of the originals from Grandma’s collection. The other houses are from my beloved Big Lots.

As we move out of the suburban sprawl section, there’s a little wooded area. This is the first year I’ve gotten to use the whole river….usually I fit about half of it onto a shelf with a house. This year it got promoted!! I got that clubhouse and the skating kids from the dollar store. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how excited I was about them. “The Village kids will be so thrilled to have a clubhouse to play in!” Right, Heather. Right. That’s completely sane.

This is the farmhouse. I decided last year that I NEEDED a cow for my village, so my sister got me one. I love that it came with pre-decorated fences. Such a festive little bovine. My daughter keeps putting the pigs in with the cow. No honey, don’t mess with Mommy’s Village.

Here’s the other side of town. You’ve got City Hall on the top shelf. It used to go in the center of town, but I made the executive decision to move it over this year, to accommodate the new clock tower. That’s Grandma Berkey’s train, going over a bridge that I got for a dollar at a local church festival this summer. Score! On the second shelf is the Zoo. My mother-in-law got that for me several years back because she decided that my village HAD to have a zoo at all costs.  (This is because I work at the zoo in Pittsburgh. I teach kids about animals and such.) To make the zoo more fun, since it only has two exhibits, I put the carousel and the popcorn guy in there as well. The popcorn guy is bigger than the rest of the people in the village, but I figure maybe he has glandular issues….and who am I to judge?

And finally, here’s the seedy section of town - the storied tavern and the jail from Grandma’s collection, along with the brewery. That’s one of my favorite finds from Big Lots! If nothing else, the people in my Village need their beer! That little guy outside the tavern stands there and plays the accordion every year. I feel kinda bad for him. Maybe I should let him share his musical gifts in the middle of town next year.
And there you have it, more than you ever wanted to know about the object of my Christmasy obsession. My daughter tells me that the people come to life at night. I can’t decide if that’s magical or creepy. Or maybe a little bit of both? Anyway, I hope they live it up while they can. It’s only a matter of weeks before I’ll have to imprison them in their boxes again. Sigh. I’ll shun that thought from my mind, and focus on what new pieces I need for next year. What will the clearance racks hold? A school for my uneducated children? A train station for Grandma’s train? A barn for that festive little cow? Oh, the possibilities are endless….
Thanks Starr, for letting me share a little bit of Christmas crazy with the blogosphere. Now go hang your stockings by the chimney with care (stockings! Oh man, you should hear about my stockings!), deck the halls, and all that. Merry Christmas, everyone!


  1. I laughed! I cried! Okay, I didn't cry.. but, I laughed! and I LOVED looking at the Berkey Village..

  2. WOW!!! That is phenomenal!! I'd love to see it up close and personal!! So beautiful!! My dads puts up a miniature train set and village but this is a whole other level!! Good Job Heather!

  3. LOVE IT!!!!! Brings back memories of Aunt Laura's village.I got a few of her houses from the village after she passed away... I swear she got a new one every year! She had an iceskating rink that I was obsessed with!!!!
    And I am sure your village people couldn't be happier :)

  4. makes me want one! i love how it is piece-meal :) just makes it have so much more character!

  5. hmm... maybe i should change my screen name to 'the other starr'

  6. Heather, your blog was amazing! I could only aspire to have a Christmas village of such great stature and interest as yours! I am only a novice, have been collecting for maybe three to four years now. Your article made me laugh. I love the 'seedy' part of town. My childhood piano teacher had an amazing village set up under her Christmas tree, complete with mirror ice rinks and moving parts, always enthralled me. And now is my inspiration!


Thank you for your comments. We appreciate sincerity, snark, and general praise.

Blogging tips