ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
When a home is magically transformed for a few weeks during the Christmas season, decorating can be as simple as a Christ- mas tree or as elaborate as a decor featured on a holiday magazine cover.
Margie Schwartz, who’s home sits perched atop a knoll surrounding Marion County Lake, has chosen to enthrall holiday visitors by filling every nook and cranny with Christmas decorations.
And her holiday decorating theme has evolved into a delight for all ages.
“My house is for kids and for people who are kids at heart,” Schwartz said. “It’s decorated cute. It’s not decorated beautiful.”
The doorbell plays “Hark the Herald Angels Sing;” a hand-carved nativity set greets friends as they walk into the front room; different theme trees around the house include a Looney Tunes and Walt Disney tree, a Wizard of Oz tree and a goose-feather tree; an elaborate Christmas village twinkles with lights; two nutcrackers dance; and various ornaments and decorations play holiday tunes and move.
After 30 years serving in the Marine Corps, husband Dick was employed for seven years with Dow Chemical Agent Orange Payment Program for Vietnam Veterans in Tampa, Florida. He retired from Dow to enjoy life with his wife and visits from their two grown children and five grandsons.
The couple’s commitment to the military spanned the continent from the east to west coasts, and from Korea to Japan to Hawaii.
But Schwartz was born and raised in Marion, her mother still lives there, and she and Dick chose five years ago to settle at Marion County Lake.
“We really think we have the best piece of property on the lake,” Schwartz said about their ranch-style home overlooking the lake. “It’s just wonderful, we love it.”
As members of the Marion County Lake Chat and Dine Club, the Schwartzes agreed to host the club’s first holiday open house for lake residents on Dec. 14. Entertaining is second nature to the couple, who hosted many military gatherings in the past.
“Now, living in a smaller community, it’s a treat to entertain and have people come over to share your Christmas things and share a glass of punch,” Schwartz said.
Mother Sadie Bernhardt inspired her daughter with the tradition of decorating for the holidays. And Schwartz said she has passed that tradition on to her daughter, also married to a Marine.
Moving during the military often translated into broken items in shipment, but five or six glass balls and two red lighted candles from her childhood have survived.
“Those have to be around 50 to 55 years old,” Schwartz said about the brittle old plastic candles with two light bulbs in each. “Mom always had them sitting on her piano. She gave them to me, and now, every Christmas, they go up.”
Schwartz has also collected decorations during her travels-picking up a delicate lighted lantern set from the Orient 30 years ago and a hand-carved nativity set purchased in the 1970s in the Philippines.
“It’s all hand painted with mute colors,” Schwartz said about the set that includes Mary, Joseph, the Christ child, an angel, three wise men, a trumpet player, a shepherd, two sheep and two cows.
Beginning in the early 1980s, Schwartz began collecting theme ornaments in addition to ornaments that are mechanical and play music.
One such collection is her Looney Tunes and Walt Disney tree-an artificial tree loaded with memorable characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. And the tree wouldn’t be complete without Woody Woodpecker, who when turned on, shouts out his famous woodpecker cackle.
An ardent fan of the Wizard of Oz movie, her Wizard of Oz tree is home to an on-going collection of Oz memorabilia, including the wicked witch talking about “my pretty” as she looks into her magical globe.
“I love the movie,” Schwartz said. “I’ve seen it so many times. I get the ornaments wherever I can find them.”
Next to the tree, the fireplace mantel provides a perch for a little mechanical Christmas bear, who blows soap bubbles that waft past the treasured childhood Christmas candles.
Moving on to her favorite room in the house, Schwartz has a view of the lake. This room hosts the tree with the most ornaments and is the setting for her large Christmas village display.
The village sits atop a plywood table covered with cotton-bunting snow. The display area is 16 feet long by 4 feet wide with holes drilled in the top to string lights for 54 houses-six of which were added to the set for this year’s display.
“It’s funny, every year we have to do the holes different because I’ve painted more houses,” Schwartz said. “I’ve painted every one of these houses. I send off to magazines and buy them in craft stores. It takes probably a good solid six hours to paint one house.”
The village includes a small train set, a farmyard and outbuildings with a farmer’s wife hanging out her clothes to dry and the farmer and his son in a lookout tower, skiers schussing down a snow-packed mountain and a tall-spired church overlooking the village.
As a red-headed woodpecker perched on a bird-feeder outside the village-room window in early December, Schwartz paused to remind herself she needed to put more bird feed out and then turned to point out an unusual tree made of goose feathers.
“It’s an ugly little thing,” Schwartz said about a tree standing only 2 feet tall and looking like it could compete with Charlie Brown’s scraggly conifer of storybook legend.
“The goose-feather tree was brought over by the German immigrants over 100 years ago,” Schwartz said.
The history of the tree dates back to a time when decorated trees were becoming more and more popular during holiday celebrations. But the need for cutting down a fresh tree was tempered by a depleted forestland. Considered to be the first artificial trees, these early German creations were made to resemble the white pines of the German countryside.
The authentic tree in her home is only three years old and is made of goose feather that has been dyed green, Schwartz said.
The newer trees can be found to tower as tall as 6 feet, but the traditional trees crossing the ocean were table-top size so they could be transported easily.
Pointing to little red dots on the tips of the feathers, Schwartz said, “Wherever the little red things are, that’s where they used to put candles,” a practice discontinued today due to fire-safety concerns.
Asked why she has so many mechanical and musical ornaments, Schwartz said, “I just think they’re fun. It’s almost like having a birthday party with all these fun things for kids to come in, enjoy and see.”
But the frivolity of the decorations in her home is tempered by the serious message of the season.
“If you notice, that’s what I have when you first come in the door, are the nativity scenes,” Schwartz said.
And maybe that’s why the jolly ole’ elf is part of a heart-warming decoration that sits on a low table in the village room.
The figure of Santa Claus is kneeling with head bowed and hands in prayer in front of the Christ child lying in the manger.
“It’s very moving because so many people think that Santa is a funny old guy,” Schwartz said.
“But this depicts him as somebody who worships Christ, too. The true meaning of Christmas is Christ’s birth. And we’ve got to keep that in the forefront.”