Jim and Cathy Smith take pride in being called the “Griswolds.” Like the family in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” the Smiths decorate their Hidden Harbor home, inside and out, with thousands of lights and holiday decorations. Every room on the two-level house, including the screened-in porch, is filled with Christmas decor.
“It’s fun,” Mrs. Smith said. “It brings happiness to us and to everyone who visits our home.”
Though the Smiths start decorating in late October (“I’m usually passing out Halloween candy and decorating at the same time,” Mrs. Smith said), some of the inside decorations stay up year-round. In fact, a new addition on the home was partially designed around some of Mrs. Smith’s most cherished decor.
“When we built the addition, I consulted with the electrician on how to wire the cabinets where I would be displaying my Department 56 collection,” Mrs. Smith said. “There are thousands of tiny pieces, so I designed the cabinets in the new family room so that the display could stay up year-round.”
Included in the intricate village are chalets, castles, stores, churches, a working ski lift and a skating pond. With the simple click of a switch, the village comes to life with twinkling lights and holiday music.
“I initially spent about 140 hours putting the village together,” she said. “There are 105 lighted Department 56 village pieces on display.”
During the bulk of her collecting, retail prices for the line’s lighted houses ranged from $40 to $110, depending on size, detail and availability, she said. Her oldest village piece is Santa’s Workshop, which was introduced in 1990, she said. It was purchased from a private collection several years after she started her own collection in 1996.
The new family room, featuring cathedral ceilings and a wall with floor-to-ceiling windows, is full of decorations. Byers’ Choice Carolers congregate on tabletops and shelves, while curio cabinets are filled with sentimental decorations.
Themed trees are located in most every room. Santa leaves his gifts under the one in the family room on Christmas morning.
Though the Smiths have always enjoyed decorating for the holidays, it became more of a passion after the birth of their granddaughter, Camryn Davis, four years ago.
“She makes it all worthwhile,” Mrs. Smith said. “Her eyes light up when she walks in the house.”
Still, in this family — which also includes daughters Brittany Smith, who lives in Virginia, and Camryn’s mother, Lindsay, and her husband, Chris Davis — Christmas is not just for the young but for the young at heart.
“During Christmas, you don’t ever have to grow up in our house,” Mrs. Smith said. “We understand the meaning, and it’s an important time of year for our family.”
Mrs. Smith said that she has no preconceived notion on how she’ll decorate from year to year.
“I’m a shopper, so whenever I find something Christmasy I like, I’ll buy it and find a place for it.”
Every nook and cranny is filled with Christmas decorations — foyer, living room, family room, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms and laundry room.
“I change every piece of bedding, I put Christmas china and crystal on the dining room and kitchen tables, and I put books about Christmas on every coffee table,” she said, noting that she replaces some hanging art with Christmas art and/or decorations.
Though Mrs. Smith, 53, a registered nurse, is not a trained decorator, her talents have even gotten the attention of the neighbors, some of whom pose for their holiday family portraits inside the Smith home.
“Cathy has a good eye for color and design,” said Jim Smith, 55, a nuclear engineer. “She does incredible things. She’ll see things in magazines and then duplicate it in our house. I think she’s a repressed designer.
“I grew up in a family with two sisters,” Mr. Smith said. “My mother would always decorate our house for Christmas, so I’m used to it. And I love Cathy’s level of detail and the joy she has in doing it as well as the joy the granddaughter has when she picks up a remote in the house and something lights up.”
Mrs. Smith said her childhood memories include Christmas Eve trips to her aunt’s house, which was always decorated.
“My mother, who is now 91, always decorated, too, and made sure we had a wonderful Christmas,” she said. “I carried on the tradition, and that means a lot to me.”
In addition to vast collections of reindeer, gingerbread houses, Santa Clauses, ornaments and Christmas-themed dachshunds (they have a real one, too), the Smiths’ decorations range from vintage to modern.
“I shop a lot at T.J. Maxx and HomeGoods, and I’ll buy whatever catches my eye,” she said, noting that the most expensive item she has purchased was an original Department 56 piece for about $200.
“We’ll always do this,” Mrs. Smith said about the decorating. “It’s just a happy time.”
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...