Celebrate the holidays with miniature memories

By: Tiffany Esshaki, Elizabeth Scussel | C&G Newspapers | Published December 17, 2014

 The Christmas village is a yearly tradition in the West Bloomfield home of Petrucci, who logged 111 hours creating his masterpiece.

The Christmas village is a yearly tradition in the West Bloomfield home of Petrucci, who logged 111 hours creating his masterpiece.

Photo provided

Whether it’s festive food or tree trimming traditions, many families practice their own holiday habits — the sure-fire signs that yuletide greetings are right around the corner.

For some people, these memories come in the form of Christmas villages — pint-sized  portrayals of peaceful villages, complete with residents, stores and homes.

The Christmas village tradition is something Cindy Roback understands well.

Roback is the owner of Young’s Garden Mart and Christmas Fantasy in Warren, a store that offers pieces from Department 56 collections — a company known for its hand-crafted lighted villages and figurines.

But it’s the personal touch in the villages, Roback said, that makes it extra special, and narrowing down preferences and looking at different options is a good way to do that.

“Do you like the glossy snow village or do you like the matte look? Do you prefer Santa Claus or a more old-fashioned look? You can do the New England look or Christmas in the City,” she said.

Young’s Garden Mart and Christmas Fantasy has been in business 90 years, and began offering village pieces in the early ’80s.

“It’s been 30 years, so kids are getting new pieces or parents are buying new pieces for their kids,” Roback said. “We have some people either buying for a loved one as a gift or adding to their own collections. A lot of moms will come in and say that one daughter has this village, and another daughter has that village.”

To keep traditions alive, Roback said, many people pass down pieces to their children. And the options for pieces, she said, are ample.

“We have a few pieces of each: the Dickens, the North Pole, the New England, Christmas in the City, Snow Village. Also, A Christmas Carol — that’s a classic — everybody loves that one, and even Mickey Mouse,” Roback said. “The North Pole, the elves and Santa Claus personify Christmas in one aspect. We also have all the bulbs, adapters and accessories you could need.”

For the novice designer, Roback suggests choosing carefully and sticking with one style.

“A lot of the pieces actually don’t intermix. We have some general accessories that can go pretty well in any village, like trees and roads, but pick out which you’d like to get into and just go from there.”

Roback described the experience as wonderful — and addictive.

“I say it’s like eating potato chips. You can’t eat just one,” she said. “Some people will put pieces on a tree or on a mantle. Some will put it in a curio cabinet and keep it up year ’round.  You can make just one or two homes with a few little people in there, or you can go hog wild. One customer actually moved all the furniture out of the living room to set up her village.”

For Len Petrucci, it was the dining room. When he began his collection in the late ’80s, it consisted of three small houses placed under the Christmas tree, and the municipality grew from year to year.

“Pine needles just kept falling on them. It was awful,” Petrucci said, explaining that he then moved the houses onto the bureau in the dining room, but it still wasn’t enough.

Petrucci’s Christmas village consists of pieces from Department 56 and Lemax, with creative additions of his own mixed throughout for effect. Where he needed water, he layered crinkled tinfoil and blue cellophane. Where he needed bare winter trees, he added twigs from desert bushes he found while on vacation in New Mexico.

“At first, I wasn’t really that into it. Then I started putting things up — moving things, adding landscape — it has truly evolved,” he said. “Once fall starts, I just get really into it.”

Petrucci, who manages a local logistics company, began his village setup Oct. 5, and logged his work for the first time this year. He came in at 111 total hours.

“I very much support him, but sometimes his work does get into the dinner hours,” said wife Laura Petrucci, who refers to herself as the “Village Widow.”

“Once I get on a roll, it’s hard to stop,” Len Petrucci said. 

However, for Len Petrucci, the village is more than a hobby and creative outlet, it has also become a game. Each year, he will place specific items in the village and create a scavenger hunt list for friends and family. 

“Everyone has their own way of looking at it,” he said. “A lot of people will run right into the house and say, ‘Give me your list.’ I don’t like that. It takes a lot of time to take it all in, and see what (the people in the village) are doing.”

The Petruccis’ daughter, Alaina, said her father’s village is a staple in her Christmas season.

“We all really look forward to it. I cannot imagine having a Christmas without it,” said Alaina, who is slowly building up a village collection of her own. “But, I’m not sure I’ve ever be able to make anything like it.”