It has been slow going this year setting up everything for our six open houses in December. There have been lots of new things to add, old things to repair, unloading and unpacking, thousands of trips up and down the ladder to reach everything on those darn top shelves and hundreds of trips up and down the stairs with my bad knees. Running cords to the lights, music boxes and animation is always a major chore, especially since you can’t have any of those ugly wires showing. It has been lots of hard work but it’s my obsession and I love it. My husband says I just never grew up and still have to have my toys.
The 2009 indoor display consists of almost 30,000 lights, 12 trees, (four are two feet tall, one is three feet, one is four feet, one is seven feet, two are seven and a half feet, two are eight feet, and one is nine feet tall,) 250 animated figures, 450 Santas, 40 snowmen, 50 porcelain Christmas dolls, a large village, Mr. Christmas music boxes, a train, and on and on and on.
For the last two weeks we’ve had people ringing the doorbell, knocking on windows or grabbing us when outside wanting to know the dates of our open houses. The events take place on all Saturdays in December, plus Christmas Eve and Christmas night. The last is December 26th. We normally open the doors at 5:30 and close them at midnight, except Christmas Eve when we stay open until 2:30 in the very early morning. Based on previous year’s traffic, we expect between 600 and 1,100 visitors for each of the first three events, and 1,500 to 2,000 a night for the last three.
Now you’re probably thinking that’s a lot of strangers to let walk through your home, right? I have been doing this for 26 years and have never had anything broken or stolen. We have discovered some of the nicest folks and it is so much fun meeting and greeting everyone as we try to answer all their questions. My entire family takes part and it has become as much of a tradition for them as it is for everyone who keep coming back to visit. We have many who have been here on Christmas Eve for all the previous 25 years and have already stopped to let us know they will be back for the 26th.
How does one handle the traffic flow and security for an open house like this? Well, I am lucky everyone in the family helps and they are critical to making all this work. We split up the family, half stay outside to handle questions and greet those visitors and half take the inside duty. Sometime during an evening the inside group will switch places with the outside group. It’s usually chilly but not cold during December evenings in Texas so it’s only fair that we take turns outside. If you are going to open your home to a lot of people, make sure to have plenty of helping hands and watching eyes.
The other key ingredient to making this work is traffic flow. One of the main reasons we purchased our home was the layout. Everything is on one floor and the front entrance and patio door in the dining room both face the street. We also live on a corner and have access to two entry/exit points. In addition our home lends itself to an easy straight-forward traffic flow. Entering through the front door leads to the living room, kitchen, breakfast room, dining room and out the patio door. Our open floor plan helps immensely so there’s plenty of space for people to stop and take it all in, ask questions, or just visit a little. We keep a family member in two or three places to keep traffic moving and watch those little fingers that just have to touch everything. I always make sure all of the non-breakable and soft items are at the lowest levels so the smallest visitors can get up close and personal with those items without me having a heart attack. I figure if it made it through our two children and five grandchildren’s childhoods it’s safe for others too.
The bottom line is we make our home into a Christmas fantasy for multiple open houses. You don’t have to go crazy like we do and let thousands of strangers walk through but it’s a valued tradition in our community and I wouldn’t change a thing.
You can do an invitation-only open house so the whole family can participate and be comfortable. In our home we block off access to the back part where the bedrooms and bathrooms are located. Even though they are decorated we prefer to keep that area private.
Do you want to serve refreshments? We don’t because it would take forever, cost a fortune and keep me busy replenishing the snack dishes instead of visiting with people. I’ll admit in a couple of instances over the years we have inadvertently served refreshments without meaning too. I remember one time deciding to spend most of Christmas Eve day baking cookies. I had them all set out on the dining room table ready to put in storage tubs when my boss called and reminded me that we were supposed to be at his open house scheduled to take place before ours. I quickly changed into something more appropriate to include my elf shoes and headed off. I left instructions for our two grown children about what to do for our open house until I returned. They decided there were too many people waiting so they opened up our house an hour early. The cookies were gone before I got back. The visitors just assumed the cookies were for them. Then there was the time about five years ago when my darling husband decided he just had to make chocolate chip cookies on an open house night. I was pulling outside duty when I heard someone scream “they have fresh, homemade cookies!” and the mad rush to the door began. By the time I made it inside, all of his cookies were gone and my husband was standing there in disbelief. Chocolate chip cookies are his absolute favorite and he didn’t get to eat one. Just a fair warning, if you don’t want to provide food, don’t leave anything out in plain site or it will be gone.
We also have a guest book set out and love reading the kind words and comments. It makes great Christmas memories for everyone involved.
With careful planning, a predetermined traffic flow (not everyone is as lucky as I am to have it already set up), friends and/or family to help out and set hours you can share your Christmas fantasy with friends and neighbors and establish your own traditions. Plan accordingly, determine what you want to show off, and most importantly ENJOY!
This article was included in the December 2009 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.
By Marilyn Caron