Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Village People

Every year about this time, we start to see them: the little porcelain villages, with their detailed buildings and happy mini-people, resting peacefully on a bed of artificial snow.  These are nice, predictable worlds, and even though the characters don't move, they put us into the holiday spirit with their teeny-tiny smiles.

Some time in the mid 1980's, our family first became acquainted with Department 56 Villages.  My mother-in-law Margot, my wife Karen, and our close family friend Ginna all started collecting "village pieces" at about the same time.  Everyone was fascinated by the attention to detail and vast array of buildings, accessories, and people.  Each year at the holiday season, Department 56 added more and more to the lineup, and collectors eagerly awaited the arrival of whole new worlds.  

Karen's perfect New England Village
My wife started our collections with her New England Village, which was appropriate, seeing as how she is a genuine New Englander.  Before long, I was given several pieces of the Christmas in the City Village, seeing as how I like city life.  Our younger daughter was given the North Pole Series Village, seeing as how she liked Santa Claus.  Our older daughter was started on a collection of Snowbabies, curious little ivory-colored creatures who, according to the Department 56 website, "offer countless opportunities to celebrate love, friendship, inspiration and life's memorable moments."Before long, we had a veritable Department 56 world within our house.  Meanwhile, Margot and Ginna had expanded their respective collections accordingly.  In short, we were making our own little contribution to the success of Department 56.

I remember one particular occasion that was representative of the whole era.  Ginna, Karen and I headed to Phipps Plaza in Atlanta one evening in the early 90's for a Department 56 open house, where the company was introducing its new village pieces.  One of the mall stores had been transformed into a village wonderland, and when we arrived, there must have been well over a hundred people waiting to get into the store.  Many of the pieces being sold were in high demand, since they were about to be retired from the collections.  As with any gathering of this type, you could tell that some of the shoppers were serious collectors, full-size Department 56 village people.  You didn't want to come between Aunt Sally and the Old North Church, if you know what I mean.  I could only imagine what kinds of villages these people were displaying in their homes, but then again, our own home was being transformed as well.

Karen is religious about putting up her village pieces, and they always look lovely.  Each arrangement of buildings looks perfectly to scale, and the little people are placed right where they belong, engaged in such activities as skating, hauling ice blocks, sledding (there's lots of sledding), admiring the latest lobster haul, kissing under the mistletoe, and bringing home Christmas trees.  Me, I require a little prodding to get my Christmas in the City village in place.  After all, city people are very busy, and what with commuting, checking out new restaurants, and stopping at coffee shops, they don't tend to have as much time to devote to village construction.  Nevertheless, once my village is assembled, you'll see people playing the violin, walking the dog, carrying fire truck ladders, reading the paper on a park bench, or doing their best Madeline impressions outside the Brighton Preparatory School (introduced in 1995).

My Christmas in the City
This year, my wife "strongly encouraged" me to get my village put together, so on a rather warm winter's night, when I happened to have the house all to myself, I did just that -- or at least I thought I did.  When Karen returned home, she told me that there were some issues.  The most critical problem was that I had placed all my buildings in perfectly straight lines.  I countered this by stating that in most cities, buildings are in straight lines up and down city blocks.  Nevertheless, Karen took it upon herself to rearrange one of my two village setups.  I don't know...I thought my village, a working person's village if you will, had a little something going for it.  But now, I'm not so sure.

Karen's Christmas in the City
Anyway, this whole village thing is very serious to lots of collectors out there, and many people have invested thousands of dollars in their tiny worlds.  And really, maybe that's a good thing, because even as much as I might chuckle at the obsessive nature of this particular behavior, I have to admit that I kinda like seeing the villages and their happy little people.  This is a big world with lots going on, and we don't have control over much of what happens, so it's nice to know that once a year, we can recreate a serene little porcelain world of our own.  My village people may not all be standing in the right places, but I have a certain fondness for them, and for their collectors as well.

Hope you all enjoy your holidays!