Lacombe’s Gayle Benedictson is known affectionately as Mrs. Claus because every year she transforms her home into a “Christmas Museum.”
And that’s no understatement.
Every room has at least one tree, a nativity scene and boasts its own theme –– Santa, Nutcracker, Elf, Angel, Moose and Deer or Snowman –– decked out with holiday trimmings.
In the kitchen the daily dishes, napkins, placemats and table cloths are swapped out for others that reflect the season. Even the bathroom is given the holiday treatment with a switch of the toilet covering, the shower curtain and the toilet paper roll covering for all things festive.
Benedictson says she decorates because she loves the feelings of joy and peace that come out around Christmas time.
“It’s always been a very special time for me,” said Benedictson. “This brings a lot of joy to a lot of people’s lives.”
She spends roughly 80 hours over 10 days decorating every nook and cranny of her two-bedroom home with all things festive starting in late November.
The trimmings and decorations do not come down until Jan. 7. after the Ukrainian Christmas.
She has been decking her halls “forever” but really started to go all out when Benedictson and her husband, Cliff, moved from Fort McMurray in 2000.
The 62-year-old retired elementary school teacher said she would be hard-pressed to even take a guess at the tally of Christmas decorations.
“I haven’t got a clue,” laughed Benedictson. “I have people come in and they are mind boggled. There is so much stuff (that) many people have to visit more than once to take it all in.”
The living room boasts a Christmas tree that nearly touches the four metre (10 foot) ceiling.
Among the countless displays and embellishments, there’s a special corner with Santa and the Christ child in the dining room, a choir along the upstairs railing, dolls on the stairs, decorated light fixtures, Christmas cushions, holiday mats, angels everywhere in the master bedroom and a festive photo gallery. Every imaginable size of a Santa Claus figurine or doll lines a shelf along three walls in the basement.
Old Saint Nick is also sitting in little rocking chairs, on the floors, on the bar and on the bookshelves.
A Jesus is the Reason For the Season poster, one of Gayle’s favourites, is hung on the pantry door in the kitchen.
Visiting the Benedictson home at Christmas has evolved into a tradition for many in Lacombe and area over the years. Between 95 and 120 friends, friends of friends, neighbours and family file through every year.
The Benedictsons have been asked to give tours but she said the tour just wouldn’t flow properly.
But the couple is happy to open their doors to anyone who wants a little Christmas joy.
“It’s her passion,” said Cliff, 69. “I just go with the flow. Other than carry a few boxes. She does this whole thing herself.”
In the next few days, Cliff will do his part as he sets up a large nativity scene and strings up lights outside the home.
“He likes to pretend he’s bah humbug but he wouldn’t put up with it if he was,” said Gayle.
Benedictson also dresses the Christmas part from Dec. 1 to Jan. 7.
She has about 25 Christmas shirts, a jewelry box full of earrings and four hats.
Once the house is ready for the season, the couple puts out a guest book for visitors to sign before they leave. As way of thanking her guests, the visitors get to choose a small token from the “giving tree.” This year Gayle made small wool angels and crocheted stockings filled with candy.
“It’s way beyond a holiday,” said Benedictson. “People tend to think I am all wrapped up with the Santas and the decorations but there is so much more. I think that’s why there’s so many nativity scenes in answer.”
She said it is not necessarily just faith-based but more of a feeling of joy during this special time of the year.