Holiday house: A mantle heavy with 15 stockings - and more

In mid-October, jack-o’-lanterns and witches were on the minds of many, but Mary Jane “MJ” Swope was already thinking about Christmas.

“I bought $150 worth of cereal just today,” she says. “I make a ton of Chex Mix to give away.”

And there’s another hint of Christmas yet to come in the family room. In the center of the mammoth mantel that gets decked out in Boise State blue and orange at the beginning of the season is Boise artist Ward Hooper’s poster “Dreaming of a Blue Christmas.”

The mantle will be heavy with Christmas cheer. Each year, 15 stockings stretch along the hefty timber. If more grandkids come along, they’ll have to figure something out, MJ says. It’s best with a fire roaring in the large stone fireplace that sits at the center of this lodge-like house.

The home exudes an Idaho kind of warmth, with a rustic wood and stone interior, and ceilings that reach almost as high as the trees along Loggers Creek, which runs behind the East Boise house.

Her husband Mike Swope grew up in Twin Falls and is a BSU grad — hence the blue and orange. He runs a commercial real estate company in Boise. MJ grew up in Illinois and moved to Idaho in 1974. A real estate agent, she pitches in a few days for Mike’s company but is mostly retired and loves focusing on family. Swope and her husband Mike don’t go overboard with decorations and frills. In this holiday house the traditions are grounded in food, family, friends and good memories.

MJ is in charge of Christmas central at the Swope abode, and the trains do run on time. She shops for the perfect gifts for each person on her list all year long, and she always succeeds. “At least no one complains,” she says with a wink. She finds ornaments when they travel and dedicates a whole room for her holiday prep and wrapping. She starts wrapping packages in early November.

“Christmas is my favorite holiday,” she says.

MJ and Mike have four kids, three of whom have spouses, and five grandchildren (so far). They’re spread out between Nampa and California and usually make it home for the holidays, though rarely at the same time. So the holidays linger some years. But then, there’s nothing wrong with a Christmas that lasts longer, MJ says.

A tall Christmas tree dazzles guests in the entryway. The work to decorate it each year falls to MJ, and it’s a labor of love. She made many of the ornaments, which are family treasures, Mike says. On every bow hangs a memory.

“I put some Christmas music on and get a little teary-eyed,” she said. “I guess you miss the ones that are gone just a little bit more at Christmas time.”

But, of course, family and lively grandchildren always win out over tears.

Many of the Swope family traditions revolve around food, especially MJ’s famous biscuits and gravy she serves at their annual Christmas Day brunch, when about 25 people gather at the table. What’s for Christmas dinner? Leftover brunch, of course.

“It’s all about family,” MJ says. “It’s fun. I do enjoy it, but the best thing is hugs from the grandkids. Hugs and kisses. Everything else is just stuff.”