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A soft glow from Debbie Best’s television room illuminates the hallway, piquing the curiosity of those visiting the West Brooklyn home.
The faint whirring of tiny motors can be heard as you approach.
Stepping through the doorway, visitors discover a bustling Christmas village display, one that features Christmas carolers and skaters, children playing in the snow and shoppers rushing home with their treasures.
The welcoming display has been two decades in the making, starting when Best picked up her first three Christmas village homes to help decorate her living room.
Little did she know, it would turn into a passion that takes five hours to set up.
“One day, I was driving by a house and they had a yard sale sign out. I went in and lo and behold, there must have been three boxes of this village with houses and rivers and bridges,” said Best. “She wanted to sell the whole works for $25 so I grabbed it.”
That Christmas, her village moved from the front room into the television room.
“I continued to collect,” she said. “Most of the pieces have been picked up at yard sales. There’s a few that’s been a gift.”
Santa Claus has had a hand in the fun, slipping villagers who inhabit the display, snowmen and the small trinkets that decorate the scene into her Christmas stocking.
“The main table got filled up so the friends who help me put it up each year, one of them is quite handy with the hammer and nail so she started building up for me,” Best said.
Sometime after Remembrance Day, Best invites three West Brooklyn Baptist Church friends over for an afternoon of decorating and dinner.
“I get all this stuff out and I cook them supper and they go to work on setting it up,” said Best.
“It takes us a good five hours or more to set it up.”
And without her pals Rev. Barbara Cochran, Debbie Hiltz and Hazel Miles, Best imagines she would have downsized the collection by now.
Best says she has more than 50 houses, churches, and other buildings in her Christmas Village. The number of villagers, trees and snowmen escapes her — but there are many.
“Christmas has always been one of my favourite times,” said Best, whose home is decked from one end to the other for the holidays.
She says she enjoys sitting in there in the evenings watching TV and showing the display to visitors — though this year has put a damper on having guests over.
“What do I get out of it? I enjoy showing it to the grandchildren and people who come to visit,” she said. “The lights in the evening are mellow while you’re in there watching TV.”
ANOTHER SIZEABLE COLLECTION
But that’s not the only collection that Best has. Her gingerbread ornament collection gives the Christmas village a run for its money.
Her dining room is transformed every year into a gingerbread man haven. The hobby started innocently enough about 30 years ago, when she began working at Windsor Elms Village.
She was stationed in the Alzheimer’s unit at the senior citizens’ home and said when they decorated the tree, they had to ensure all ornaments were edible.
“So, we made gingerbread cookies and put them on strings and we put them on the tree. The year we did that, we had little red bows on them. It was such a pretty little tree, I thought, ‘hmm, I’m going to do that.’ So, I did,” she said.
She bought an artificial tree for the dining room, strung up lights and made gingerbread cookies, which her dog loved to steal and eat.
Over time, she started noticing gingerbread men ornaments and began collecting. Her tree is now so full of decorative gingerbread men, she doesn’t need to bake any.
“Once they know you are collecting something, people give. Over the years, people have given me ornaments and if I find gingerbread ones out there, I buy them,” she said.
“I no longer need cookies,” she said with a laugh, adding she still does a lot of Christmas baking.
Best retired from the Windsor Elms in October.
The outside of her West Brooklyn home is also decorated, and her front room is Santa-themed.
When asked what reaction she receives when people see her Christmas displays, she laughs.
“Some people think I’m crazy, I think. Other people say ‘wow;’ they love it. A lot of people look at it and think, ‘look at that work.’ I enjoy it,” she said.
Best said with upwards of 30 family members who gather for the holidays, this year is going to look quite a bit different due to COVID-19 restrictions. Still, she’s looking forward to the holidays.
“I celebrate Jesus’ birth. That is the reason for the season. Some things never change. We may have to change the way we do it but it’s still going to be Christmas. I’m sure we will all find a way of enjoying it.”