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franklin county times

Yearlong Yuletide: Christmas village illuminates local garage, spreads seasonal cheer

FRANKLIN LIVING NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023

For Spruce Pine resident Rickey Skidmore and his wife, Pam, the love of Christmas fuels their motivation for a special ongoing project. It all started 10-12 years ago when his mother-in-law got tired of decorating and gave them the eight or so Christmas village houses she had and encouraged them to “do something with them.”

What began as a few pieces of a Christmas village in their den on a smallish square table eventually grew until it had to be moved to a playroom, displayed on a pool table fitted with a cover Rickey made. That arrangement lasted about two years. Eventually, the couple closed in half of their garage, around five or six years ago, to house the collection. The sprawling village fills the space but still has room to grow vertically, and plans are already in the works for coming additions. The Skidmores have 11 new houses that haven’t been incorporated yet.

“My mother, Margaret Seal, gave us our first set, a farm set,” recalled Pam. “She gets real excited about it every Christmas to come see it. We give her a lot of the credit, and she loves that. We started buying the houses and adding to it, and it just keeps growing. We always have our family Christmas, over 20 people, and one of the main things is they want to go see the Christmas village, so that just makes us proud. Last year, we had our first open house, mainly for our church family, and they really enjoyed seeing it, too.”
“I don’t hunt or fish. This is my hobby,” Rickey explained. “I think we’ve got a little over 120 different houses right now, and I make all my backdrops, carving them out of Styrofoam and painting them. Every few years, I try to change it up a little bit. I end up buying more houses, and then I have to make room for them, so I have to make the village higher.”

Most of the pieces are from Department 56 or Lemax. While Rickey said they can be on the pricey side, he goes to estate sales and buys “very few” of them new, which keeps the cost down.

His wide-ranging collection includes a host of different houses, shops and restaurants, plus an operational train and moving streetcar. Other moving pieces include a Ferris wheel, windmill and popcorn machine. Colorful lights illuminate the village and the sounds of Christmas music from some of the pieces fill the space with seasonal cheer – so much so, in fact, that they opted to turn the sound off of many of the pieces so as to keep the atmosphere from becoming overwhelming.

“One area is a neighborhood, and I have a carnival going on in one section, a farm set up in another one, and a different area has a downtown section,” Skidmore explained. “We actually have two different campgrounds. I bought 1/64 scale model Hot Wheels for one of my campgrounds.”

Future plans include adding two drive-in movie theatres. “I’m going to have to tear out a whole bunch and rewire a lot of stuff to be able to fix it the way I want it,” he said. “About two years ago I redid the wiring with bigger and heavier wire to make sure I don’t overload anything, and I can cut it all off with a couple of switches.”

Rickey said he enjoys the variety of the pieces and the general atmosphere, and he likes spending time in the space even outside of the Christmas season.

“There’s a Santaland with elves and other North Pole features, and we have a ski resort with a snow slope. We add to the village with whatever we have and make the decorations look as realistic as we can.” While he said it’s difficult to pin down a singular favorite piece, he does have some favorite areas of the village. “Probably some of my favorite pieces are from the carnival or the log cabins. We added the campgrounds because we like to camp, and the kids always enjoy the carnival type stuff because there’s a lot of motion and a lot of stuff with it, including a moving merry-go-round and other rides. There’s probably more motion in the carnival than in the other areas. It’s a lot of fun.”

Rickey said he handles most of the work related to the structures and wiring, but Pam enjoys helping him decorate. “We make a lot of the decorations or get things to decorate in the houses and yards and other areas and make it so it looks like there’s snow and lawn decorations – miniature items to add interest,” he explained. “We’ve probably put more than 200 trees into it. I’ve got one area where a little train goes through a mountain, and I have trouble keeping it running, so it doesn’t run very often.”

He said their kids have always “really enjoyed” the village, but that’s not their only Christmas décor: Once they had grandchildren, he resumed Christmas decorations outside their home. “We’ve been married 43 years, and when we first got married, I used to decorate outside every year, but it was costing so much money,” Rickey explained. “We use LED now, and it’s a lot cheaper. You don’t have that much of a power spike on it. We usually have a month and a half or so of working pretty solid getting everything up. My son and older grandchildren come help me get the lights up on the house, and I do most of the lawn decorations. We enjoy working on it all together, and it’s just a hobby for us.” He said they usually try to have the outside decorations, including around 30 inflatables, ready by the day after Thanksgiving. The effort brings joy to family members as well as neighbors and friends.

“Watching the kids that come to see everything is the best part,” Rickey said. “The expressions on their faces, the bright lights and all – they just light up every time they see them. That’s where I get all my reward from: watching them have a good time with it.”

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