MOUNTAIN HOME — From the outside, Sandy Booth’s house is ordinary enough.
There are lights, of course, and a hearty number of holiday inflatables decorating the yard. Big candy canes line the sidewalk.
Perhaps the animated dolls in the front window — an old-fashioned caroler in red velvet, a sleepy mouse, an angel — provide the first clue that something else is going on here.
Because inside this house lives a collector and connoisseur of everything Christmas. “I just like Christmas,” Booth said.
With the scent of fresh-baked pound cake in the air, errant glitter on her cheek and a similar glint in her eye, Booth reaches for the nearest ornament and pulls a string. Tinkly carols accompany miniature animated bears singing carols.
She pulls another string. A tiny train runs circles around a snow-covered gingerbread house.
“There’s something about these things that lights up everything. It makes you happy,” she said.
And this is just the living room. Manger scenes, ornaments, dolls, decorations, winter scenes, bedecked animals and Father Christmas are arranged around the room. The fresh tree is squeezed next to the dining room, where this year’s purchases are arranged in a new scene.
It’s only the beginning. Booth is waiting to show off the piéce de résistance. She hands over a remote with three buttons and points to what would ordinarily be a family room. “But when (kids) come in here and they flip on the lights …”
Booth, 61, spends days assembling “the village.” It takes up three walls, from floor to — and sometimes including — the ceiling. Wrapping paper lines the room, covering windows and family photos to maintain the decor.
On cue, the remote wakes up dolls, carousels spin, windmills go around. Skaters skate, trains run, bears sing, lights blink.
“I like to watch the kids’ eyes. I like to watch the parents’ eyes when they see their kids get excited,” Booth said.
It’s too much to take in, but Booth is already pushing more buttons, and when kids come, they’re allowed free rein to find them all. Booth knows each ornament and shows them off with the pride of a little kid herself. Although some collectors limit themselves to a certain line, Booth has her own standards: “I just pick what I like. It has to be something really good.”
A porcelain house tells the “ ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas” story. Santa zooms across the room on a zip-line balloon. Frosty dances.
This, for Booth, is Christmas. “I like showing it to people every year. They’re not always the same people, so whoever I can get to come and look at it.”
‘A HAPPY TIME’
It’s not much more complicated than that: Joy. Of kids or senior citizens. Or anyone who will share her delight at sharing.
“(Christmas) is a happy time for kids. You collect coats for kids, you collect angel tree presents for kids …” Or you let them push buttons in a Christmas village. “You try to make them happy. Try to get their minds off the other stuff going on,” Booth said.
Her childhood Christmases were pretty normal and didn’t portend her future as a village architect. Her family had a tree; her mom baked; pajamas or skates were under the tree.
But in 1975, she bought her first movable ornament. The rest is history.
“I just kept adding. Anything that moved or made noise or lit up. After that, you’ve always got to get the accessories, the trees and statues and all kinds of stuff,” she said.
As her three kids grew up, they’d paint the village houses together. Her husband, Marty, made a crèche for the figurines she painted and invented structures on which she could hang ornaments.
This year tried Marty’s patience a bit, though. The village has been up since last Christmas. The Booths had friends who visited in February; they wanted to see how the village had grown. Then Booth hosted a meeting of the Treasure Valley Tree Trimmers in June. The village was too much to put up and take down multiple times in one year.
“I had all the dolls facing in so all the neighbors wouldn’t think I was crazy,” Booth confessed.
Along with the village, Booth said she loves to bake. “It’s relaxing. I put the Christmas music on and roll away.”
She goes through 30 pounds of sugar and 25 pounds of flour in a season: cheesecakes, German nut rolls, sour cream cookies, raspberry-filled shortbread, spritz, sugar cookies, rum balls, peanut butter fudge, fruitcake.
“I give it all away… (Christmas is about) the spirit of giving and giving for others,” she said.
Booth, who used to be a nurse, and her husband, who retired from the Navy and has worked various jobs since then, have lived in Mountain Home for 18 years.
She recognizes that Christmas doesn’t have the same meaning for everyone, so her village includes traditions that range from the sacred to the silly.
“I have a manger; there’s Jesus. But not everybody does that. ... But I do ‘Merry Christmas’ every chance I can.
“Because Christmas, for me, it’s the spirit of God being born, of Jesus being born. It’s happy times and a belief of better days coming.”
And, Booth said, “the fun that goes with it.”
Katherine Jones: 377-6414