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Snyder: It takes a village - Adventures in holiday decorating

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By Elizabeth Snyder

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The Hi De Ho Nightclub is decked out in style, as is Wong’s Chinese Restaurant. Over at Hollydale’s Department Store, the red flags signal another holiday season.

Yup. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Christmas in the City, that is.

Every December, my house is home to five Christmas trees, four Santa figures, three French hens, two dogs sporting antlers ... and several lighted ceramic houses.

It started — as such things do — innocently enough. I was young, naive, easily influenced by a 50-percent-off post-holiday sale. That’s how I picked up my first Department 56 Christmas in the City house back in 1987.

Christmas in the City was a new line of houses that year for Department 56, which had earlier started the Snow Village and Dickens Village series. There’s also the Alpine Village, New England Village, North Pole village and new buildings themed to characters from Disney, Peanuts and “A Christmas Story.” And that’s just for Christmas; you can go nuts and collect Halloween-themed buildings, too.

My sister, Kathy, was collecting the Dickens houses, so I started with Christmas in the City, figuring the company would add a new building each year, and I would find them on sale after Christmas. See? Told you I was naive back then!

Those houses got “hot” as collectibles, and the evil geniuses at Department 56 started cranking out four, five or six additions each year. They also “retire” pieces, which puts more pressure on the hapless collector (re: me) to purchase the buildings before they’re taken off the market. And during the years when Department 56 collecting was at its height, stores didn’t discount those houses. They didn’t need to; they knew we would pay full retail. (Heck, some Department 56 houses were listed for hundreds or even thousands of dollars on eBay. Thankfully, I never went the dreaded secondary market route to complete my collection.)

We were so crazy for Christmas in the City, my husband and I even attended a Dept. 56 convention in Minneapolis one year. Believe me, you haven’t lived until you’ve walked through a cavernous convention center hall filled with miniature villages arranged on tables topped with artificial snow. A highlight of the convention was a village design contest, and some of the entries were outstanding, with working waterfalls and nighttime skies complete with shooting stars.

Stop the insanity!

But like lawmakers with a solid majority, the folks at Department 56 overreached. They came out with premium-priced “limited edition” pieces every year and dramatically raised prices. I guess they never figured collectors would look around their homes and realize, “We don’t have room to display any more of those houses.” Plus, at more than $70 a pop, it’s easy to say, “I have enough Christmas in the City pieces.”

Now, I buy a new piece only if I find it on sale after Christmas, and it’s something I really like, not just something new.

That has reduced the rate of new Department 56 pieces coming in to a trickle. It’s also made for some eclectic village displays over the years as I “dabble” with houses from the various Department 56 families.

I usually start out by carefully placing the lighted houses in themed groups, like setting Radio City Music Hall next to the Ritz Hotel and across from New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater, home to David Letterman’s CBS late-night talk show.

But as fatigue sets in from making too many trips up and down the basement stairs, I grab whatever boxes are handy and just start placing those buildings wherever they fit.

So the Cadillac dealer — with a new car in the window — is next to Mickey Mouse’s Playhouse? It could happen, especially in a world where the Art Institute of Chicago shares real estate with the German church where “Silent Night” was written. As I tell my husband, Rex, when he questions the zoning laws in this locale ... “If you don’t like it, take it up with the city planner — or put these damn houses up yourself!”

Now, that’s the spirit.

Have a comment? Email Liz at or call her at 262-656-6271.

Let there be lights!

We’re looking for the biggest, brightest, wackiest holiday lights in Kenosha County for our annual Get Out Guide to Lights.

Send us your address and a brief description of your lights. Or, send us the address(es) of other outstanding lighting displays you’ve seen. (You can also send us High-resolution JPEG images of the lights for possible use in Get Out.)

We’ll run the list, and photos, in the Dec. 21 issue of our Get Out entertainment section.

Send the information to: Holiday Lights: Liz Snyder, c/o Kenosha News, 5800 Seventh Ave., Kenosha, WI 53140.

Send emails to:

We need the information by noon on Dec. 12. Thanks!

Holiday Village Contest

Do you have a holiday village you’d like to show off? You could win a major award!

The Kenosha News website is sponsoring a Holiday Village Contest.

You have until 11:59 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 8) to enter. Just log on at, sign up for a profile and submit a photo of your village.

Voting goes from Dec. 9 through Dec. 17. The three top vote getters will receive Stein’s gift cards — $200 (first place), $100 (second place) and $50 (third place).

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