Miniature Christmas villages offer big holiday charm

Whether it’s a bird’s-eye view of a Charles Dickens’ village, a seaside New England town or Christmas in NYC, small-scale winter villages offer a big-scale holiday charm under a tree, above a cabinet, in a display case or sprawled across an entire room.

I can’t pinpoint when I first fell in love with small villages. My uncle and grandfather introduced me to trains, and while they were great, I was more into the buildings and scenery around those displays – the little people and vehicles and storefronts.

Add to this my love of “SimCity” and “Sims” video games and the perfect recipe for enjoying small-scale villages is born!

I just love the idea of creating a storyline for the village, as townspeople move about in the days leading up to the holiday.

When I was younger, we placed a farm/rural village under the tree with some old-school buildings from my uncle. I mixed in some of my MicroMachines and had one eclectic little town.

Over the years, my village matured with Lemax pieces and some others (St. Nicholas Square from Kohl’s, etc). A number of my buildings and accessories came from Kmart, which used to have a great collection each holiday season.

I recently discovered that one of my buildings is a Norman Rockwell piece that was sold at Ames (of all places). I need to do some digging to find more about the history of that line.

But the crown jewel of mini villages is Dept. 56, with its vast array of quintessential New England pieces, its “A Christmas Carol” village, its NYC village collection and, more recently, its pop culture collections (think “Elf,” “A Christmas Story,” “National Lampoon,” etc).

I own one Dept. 56 building – the Heinz house. (It’s a ‘Burgh thing!)

As much as I love the attention to detail on Dept. 56 pieces, it’s difficult for me to pay the prices (even second-hand prices!) of those items. They are gorgeous and I envy folks with them, but they’re not in my budget.

But I love my hodgepodge collection of mostly Lemax pieces that also offer such attention to detail on buildings and within figurines.

The centerpiece to my village under the tree is the Wegmans grocery store building. I love Wegmans, so it was an obvious move to make that the center of town – right next to the village gazebo and choir singers.

My village under the tree usually also includes the Daily Gazette building, the Wegmans Farmhouse and typically the post office or pub (though, either made an appearance this year!).

New this year is The Secret Santa Christmas Gift Shoppe, complete with Santa standing outside the shop making his list and checking it twice.

The Norman Rockwell piece offers a glimpse into the dining room of a family about to celebrate a meal together.

A second village is placed above the cabinets in the kitchen and is kept up all year to keep a little Christmas magic going! (The village also offers some very nice soft lighting.)

The village above the cabinets includes three houses that I believe are from a collection that was part of Christmas Around The World. Foley’s Pharmacy (which I think is either a Kmart or Lemax piece) and a brewery (from St. Nicholas Square at Kohl’s) round out the businesses, which are centered around a choir group and tree.

A lighthouse at the end of the display offers a New England feel, complete with a snowman in a yellow rain slicker!

I haven’t officially named the villages, but I do tend to refer to them as Christmas Village (under the tree) and Christmas Village Heights (above the cabinets) – or, simply, The Heights.

I’m unsure how many village buildings I own, but I do know that of the 11 that are placed (12, if you include the house that’s always up in my bedroom), there is a good chance my collection has about 30 buildings.

Small compared to some folks, whose collections are well into the hundreds!

I’m in several Facebook Groups related to mini villages and get to see all of the hard work people put into their displays. Some people convert entire family rooms or basements into their Christmas villages, while others are content with a few pieces on the mantel.

I’m so inspired by the people in these groups, though. This is not just a hobby for some of them, but a true passion. (And, if for nothing else, these groups offer a place where every single person commenting is pleasant – unheard of on Facebook!)

Ask any village collector if their village collection is every complete and the answer is simple: nope!

I always tell myself not to buy any new pieces, but each year that’s a struggle. I, so far, have limited myself to just one new building (The Secret Santa shop). But I’ve purchased a few more figurines and accessories than I usually do a year.

One building I need for my village is a department store. But not just any department store. I’d like a Gimbels (from the Dept. 56 “Elf” collection), a Davidson’s Department Store (from Dept. 56), Dayfield’s Department Store (from the Dept. 56 “Christmas in the City” collection) or the dont-call-it-Macy’s “Department Store” (from the Dept. 56 “Miracle on 34th Street” collection).

Of course, I’d prefer having a Kaufmann’s Department Store (preferably the current building, but the Carnegie Science Center’s addition of the previous building would do!)

A recent quote in an Erie Times-News story about a couple who collects and displays Dept. 56 pieces resonated with me.

“I have a little stool in front of the big display,” Jeff Taylor said, “and sometimes I go out there and sit on that stool and just stare at the scenes. It’s just a great place. It’s very soothing. You look at it and you can almost see the people moving.”

Erie Times-News; Dec. 1, 2019

I’ll sometimes turn off the lights to the tree and keep the village lights on just to enjoy the scenery. I added four battery-operated lighted village trees this year and sat with just those on to illuminate the village.

Amazing what giant stories the mind can create from a tiny village.

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