Nikki and David Gridley have a particular holiday tradition. Every season they bring down the nearly 40 large and small bins that hold decorations from their attic to completely transform their cookie-cutter Meridian home into a Christmas confection.
Everywhere you look there’s a touch of the season.
From the glittering yard display to the entry way to the back stairs, the home becomes a winter wonderland filled a forest of themed trees, festive Santas in a variety of motifs, cheery choo-choo trains, glowing Grinches and a village of snowpeople. Each year the couple breaks out the festive bedspreads, napkins and hand towels, no room is left unfrosted by holiday glitz and glitter.
“We don’t just have the glamor trees,” Nikki says. “The majority of them are interactive. The ornaments have strings to pull, buttons to push. They move, they glow, they play music. There’s something to do.”
“It takes quite a while to go through the house and see everything and when you come back you’ll see something different each time,” David says.
That’s because when they decorate, they have a special audience in mind — their three grandkids.
“Christmas is for children,” Nikki says. “I don’t get to see them all the time so I want to make Christmas with grandma special. They just love it. Their eyes get so big. It looks like a winter wonderland or Santa’s toyshop to them. They’re like ‘oh, look at this, look at that.’ It fills us with such joy.”
Interactive holiday ornaments
Pass the Santa display in the entry — Santa baking, Santa on a train, Santa with his pets — and you enter the front room.
Here you’ll find all the literal festive bells and whistles with a tree packed with nearly 500 Hallmark, mostly interactive, ornaments. An electric train circles the base as it chugs along. There’s also a Grinch tree and large Grinch statue that stands on a wrapped package designed by Nikki. A nearby table pays tribute to another one of Nikki’s favorite holiday characters, Jack Skellington from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” She bought a Skellington ornament and liked it so much that she went downstairs to her craft room and made a larger version.
The breakfront on the far wall contains a Christmas village with dozens of wintry scenes set on a backdrop Nikki made of Styrofoam. David drives a Harley Davidson motorcycle, so of course there is a Harley-themed tree in their office where David runs his carpet cleaning business. A retired postal worker, this is part of Nikki’s year-round hobby and passion.
She also makes other larger, tabletop versions of her favorite ornaments, and builds decorations that her Snow Buddies Hallmark collectors club will use this year to decorate The Ronald McDonald House for the holidays.
Beyond buying and collecting, she and David invite neighbors, friends, the other members of the club, and of course family and the grandchildren to experience and celebrate throughout the season.
For them that begins Nov. 1.
“We like to have it up for at least 60 days,” Nikki says. “It’s so much work and it’s nice to have it up so we have a real chance to enjoy it.”
More than 1,000 pieces
It all started innocently enough in 1984 when Nikki’s mom started buying Hallmark ornaments as gifts for her grandkids.
“My daughter was just fascinated with how they’re made with such detail, and so was I,” Nikki says. “And now my daughter and son are doing the same thing, though not quite at this level — yet.”
Since then, Nikki has built her collection to more than 1,000 pieces. Where there’s no room for a tree, Nikki places a wreath and hangs more ornaments on them.
Don’t think that this is just Nikki’s project. David is in the thick of it, too.
“It’s something we do together,” she says.
It starts well before Halloween. The couple photographs everything in the house so they can remember where it will go when the decorations come down in January. The hardest part is packing up the year round decorations and lugging the holiday bins from the attic. It’s about a four-day project, David says.
Then they turn on the Christmas carols and get in the mood. “The feeling is just warmth,” Nikki says.
They’ve learned to stay organized so everything is stored in labeled bins in the original packaging if possible. They work from last year’s photos to create their Santascapes and Christmasland scenes. Then they incorporate the new pieces Nikki acquires.
She’s really drawn to Hallmark ornaments, although she also has a series of Thomas Kinkade houses — yes, they are lit from inside — and figures from Jim Shore Collectables and Department 56. Hallmark releases about 800 ornaments for each holiday season and many are part of a series, which makes them addicting to collect, Nikki says.
“I’m obsessed a little and I’m trying to cut down a little bit. I got fewer this year — only 25 new ones (2017). If one broke, I used to go on Ebay and see if I could replace it. Now, I’m willing to let it go. And they stopped making the Harley ornaments, and I was like, ‘Yay, now I can stop with that one’.”
Obsession aside, it’s all a labor of love, they say.
“We don’t decorate for ourselves. We do it for others. I think they enjoy seeing the creativity that the two of us can bring and how we bring life to the project instead of just sticking a piece out there that you bought,” David says. “When you finish you, sit back and say it looks really good. It was well worth it.”