Harold and Bianka Hendren show off the basement of their home, which has a 25-plus-year Christmas village collection permanently displayed.

Harold and Bianka Hendren show off the basement of their home, which has a 25-plus-year Christmas village collection permanently displayed.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Christmas village display lights up home, hearts year-round

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published December 12, 2018


ROCHESTER HILLS — With the flip of a switch, Harold and Bianka Hendren’s basement twinkles with all the magic and splendor of downtown Rochester’s Big, Bright Light Show, but on a much smaller scale.

The couple’s pride and joy is their impressive Christmas village collection of over 200 buildings, which is on display year-round in the basement of their Rochester Hills home.

The arrangement has all the bells and whistles — blinking lights, holiday music, tons of tiny windows to peek through and hundreds of animated features — all of which bring the village to life.

You can expect everything from children sledding down snow hills and making snow angels to families gliding across the ice and popcorn popping at the Popcorn Factory. Over at the theater, red curtains open and close to reveal a number of different animated scenes from “The Nutcracker,” while a remote-control train speeds through the town, traveling through tunnels and waterfalls, smoke puffing from its chimney.

And of course, the village wouldn’t be complete without a Nativity scene, Santa’s workshop, and Santa’s sleigh of reindeer flying through the sky.

The couple’s now-massive collection had a humble beginning.

Nearly 25 years ago, Bianka was gifted a small Christmas village with eight houses from her son, Paul Hendren, of Royal Oak, and daughter, Kelly Fetherolf, of Troy.

“I just became addicted from there,” Bianka said.

“It started out as a little tiny thing,” Harold added. “We used to put a piece of plywood across the couch, and it just got to be too big. Every year there was something different.”

To save months of unpacking, arranging and electrical work, the couple moved the collection to the basement last year, where it could be enjoyed year-round, and also made the switch to LED lights to save on energy costs.

“There’s a lot of acrobatics involved in building this thing,” Bianka noted. “It used to take me three or four weeks to take down. At 70 years old, I don’t want to waste that much of my life, so we moved it to the basement, and it looks absolutely beautiful down there. It’s in its final resting place.”

Bianka is responsible for setting up the display and finding new pieces to add to the merry collection — which she secures mainly via garage sales to keep costs down.

“It’s actually almost out of control, to the point where now I can’t buy any more besides little tiny pieces because there’s just no room,” she said.

The couple has invested thousands of dollars into their more than four-level arrangement throughout the years — which they say is a bargain, considering just one building can cost hundreds or even thousands.

“The Nativity scene was a really good deal because I bought it for $20,” Bianka said. “When I looked it up on the internet, lo and behold, it was almost $200 because it was retired. … I’m so glad I’m a garage sale shopper.”

Harold’s job is to bring the village to life, which he said took months of hard work and dedication.

“It takes a lot of electricity,” Harold explained. “It’s on a 15-amp circuit. Let’s just say a No. 10 wire runs it all.”

Thanks to Harold’s handiwork, the entire scene now comes to life with the flip of a single switch — to the delight of the couple’s five grandchildren, family and friends.

“The kids just love it when you first hit the switch, because everything comes on at once,” Harold said. “I just love the look on their faces.”

“The smiles it puts on people’s faces just warms my heart,” Bianka added. “It makes it all worth it.”