(Snow Village photo courtesy of Department 56)
For the past thirteen Christmases, I have watched my mother-in-law, Sharon, put up her Snow Village. When I first saw it so many years ago, she had already developed quite a large collection but throughout the years since then the collection has continued to grow. A school building. A coffee shop. An evergreen tree with tiny, blinking Christmas lights adorned on its snowy branches. Only in the past four or five years has she asked that we not add to her collection of more than 20 houses, 3 cars, three dozen people, and other assorted pieces because she doesn't have enough space to display even what she does have, let alone room for more.
I have admired Sharon's Snow Village--even though I refuse to collect anything myself--because it has always seemed magical. Little towns, dressed up for the holidays, built on the theme of a good old-fashioned Christmas: reminds me of being a kid. I didn't grow up with anything even remotely resembling the Snow Village, but I remember a little church that my mom would display every Christmas season.
One little plastic church that sat on top of the TV. No town, no little people caroling around the church, no fake snow--just a church. And yet, I would spend hours standing next to the little church, winding up the music that chimed out "Silent Night" from inside the church, watching the tiny Christmas light glow from the windows. It didn't matter that all we had was one church because my imagination filled in the missing pieces. I created whole stories surrounding the church--there was the village that was "down the hill" from the church, the people who went into that little chapel for Christmas Eve, singing Christmas songs, and having festive parties in the church basement. In my mind's eye, I saw the wooden pews and the nativity scene set up in the church. There may not have been a whole village, but that didn't stop me from pretending there was.
Today, as we were visiting at Jason's parents' house, Sharon pulled out the huge storage containers filled to the brim with Snow Village pieces. We have always talked about the day Sydney would be old enough to help set up Snow Village, and this was finally the year.
Oh, the look on her face as she saw all the pieces! The wonder, the awe, the absolute delight in pulling out the glass figurines. She assembled a small pile of fake snow on the carpet in the livingroom, and there the tiny horse drawn carriage made its rounds. Sydney would guide the carriage around and around, singing Jingle Bells and pretending to pick up other little children who would ride in the sleigh. I sat back and watched--not wanting to intrude on the story between Sydney and her grandma--listening as they created whole lives for the people of Snow Village.
As Sharon would unpack each piece, Sydney would decide where the building would go on the table. To the left were the houses and trees, in the center was the park with benches and an ice skating rink, to the right was the village square, with the Toy Shop, of course, at the center. Sydney sprinkled snow over the whole village, and gave names to the people. "Here is Daddy holding Julianne. Here is Mommy and me singing songs." And on and on she'd go, creating conversations between the people, all the while scooping up the snow and dropping it over the village.
Sharon took out less than a third of her collection, although even at that it still filled up an entire side table. Next year, when Sydney is 4, we figure that the whole village will have to come out. I can't imagine Sydney letting any buildings stay in their boxes once she knows how much fun it is to sit and watch and create the stories of the Snow Village. She already loves the little yellow VW bug, the ladder that sits waiting to be climbed, the red bird that sits atop the snow-covered bird house.
Today, as Sydney's imagination was in full swing, I saw myself in her, whispering out the words of pretend conversations, moving little people to their places and then moving them back. There is something magical in the way she plays on her own, and it stirs in me emotions I'll never capture in words. I found myself watching her today, as the Snow Village became alive in her eyes, and feeling thankful for that gift.
I admit that for more than a few years, I haven't looked that closely at Sharon's Snow Village anymore. It has become part of the decoration, like a throw pillow that says Merry Christmas, or a picture of Santa Claus on a Christmas card. Just some image of the holidays. But today, I saw the Snow Village again through Sydney's eyes and realized what a lovely place it is. I also figured out what the attraction is to that kind of collecting: there is something fun about creating a village of your very own.
The village doesn't have to be very big, though. Today I realized that no matter how old some people get, there is always joy in the experience of standing by the little plastic church, listening to the faint strains of "Silent Night," and envisioning all the people who are part of the Christmas village.