Sean Kelly’s house is just like any other Red Deer home, with a Christmas tree and holiday decorations, but there’s one major exception.
Upon entering the home, visitors can see the dining area has been transformed into a miniature Christmas village with more than 1,000 figurines, dozens of buildings and ornaments.
The 73-year-old Red Deerian stages the village in his home every year during the holiday season.
The village is about 36 feet from end-to-end. It’s based off both Canadian culture and Kelly’s Irish heritage, with a little bit of Red Deer and a little bit of fiction.
His Christmas village collection started when Kelly moved to Red Deer from the Northwest Territories about 25 years ago. His collection grew over time, from shopping at garage sales, for instance.
“I have an area back home called Burnside – and a burn is a small street in Scotland or Ireland, and so this is Burnside,” he said, referring to one Irish aspect of the village.
The Canadian flavours of the village include pond skating, ice fishing, curling, tailgating and so on.
“Here is hockey, lots of ice fishing – never heard of that until I came to Canada,” he said.
As an immigrant, Kelly learned the Canadian ways, but also keeps his traditions from back home.
“I came to Canada and I embraced the Canadian culture like curling, but blending is important. My belief is when we come to Canada, we embrace what’s here, but it doesn’t mean we have to give up our culture, like my kids know a lot about Ireland and we celebrate Irish holidays,” he said.
The Christmas village is divided into many sub-communities, such as East Hill, West Side and South Point Park. It has emergency services buildings in one corner, a ski hill, a winter carnival with a taco truck, a farm, and a train that goes through the community – the most popular aspect of the village among Kelly’s young grandkids.
Time has got nothing on Kelly, because the village consists of every building that you’d see in any community, from a modern-day laundromat to an old-time blacksmith shop.
The Red Deer resident and his wife Debbie use the Christmas village to quiz their holiday guests: friends, family, co-workers, children, grandchildren and neighbours.
A quiz example includes: “Out in the west, service will be down by one, a few months more he will be gone to the sun.”
This would have participants looking to the West Side for the answer: a snowman figurine.
His guests usually split up in teams of two and answer the quiz of the year, which takes them a couple of hours.
Why does Kelly go through all this?
To find the meaning of Christmas, and to remind people of the true meaning. Every year, he has a different objective or theme to the quiz. One memorable year was “pulling together” and this year it’s “12 Days of Christmas.”
The pulling together theme required guests to find a family member’s figurine, and in doing so, they all had to work together.
“They have to pull together. The more they pull together, they will more likely resolve (an issue) and kids were searching all over,” Kelly said.
The quizzes were inspired by Irish treasure hunts.
“They would set clues all around the parish, and you got into the vehicle and drove from one to the next, and there would be clues,” he explained, adding the miniature village is a two-dimensional version of that tradition.
“And you would discover places you may not have been to before,” he explained, adding Christmas is about the community spirit: peace, respect, love and care.
The quizzes started because Kelly was concerned his children may not grasp the true meaning of Christmas, and for him, Christmas is about family, friends and community coming together.
“We have to cultivate that spirit. As my family would be mixing in the community, they would bring that into the community.
“We start with ourself and our family. We can impact the community around us, and the peace and co-operation and the care and love and respect for others should evolve the true meaning of Christmas. Not the commercialism, not the materialism,” he said.
It takes him uninterrupted, three weeks to put the village together. Over time, he has learned the workings of the village and repairs the buildings himself, as needed.
To keep the quiz interesting, Kelly ensures the village and its communities look different every year.
The couple’s family might not be able to find the answers at times, but they always find their figurines that sit in the village. He said his family-member figurines are spread throughout the village and there they stay throughout the holiday season.
Anyone interested in checking out the Christmas village can call 403-347-7394.