December 20, 2006

Under the tree

Under the tree

When my mother was little, she says she used to spend hours lying on the floor on her stomach, staring at the Christmas village under the tree. It was a village of delicate little houses and glittery snow. Her story gave my father the idea of building a Christmas village for our tree, using odds and ends of wood he had in the basement. The village he built was sturdy – so that kids could play with it – but also pretty. My mother painted all the little houses and bridges. I can remember setting it up with my little sister and carefully arranging the lights of the Christmas tree so that they shown into the streets. A mirror made a lovely pond, and pine cones served as trees. In those days, hardly anyone had Christmas villages – we were way ahead of our times – so it was hard to find figures of people to go in the village but eventually Christmas villages became fashionable again and you could buy little figures. And at a flea market, my mother found a lead ice skater just like the one in the Christmas village of her childhood.

I can remember neighbor kids playing with the village, and one of our extras proudly bringing us something he thought would fit in. It was a scantily clad woman with unrealistically large breasts hanging onto a lamp post, the kind of decorative statue sometimes seen in the 70s when basement bars and sexist decor were both in style. My parents graciously accepted the gift from the enthusiastic but clueless kid, and then my father got out his acrylics and painted a more modest outfit onto the woman. We also had any number of villagers that were missing arms and limbs, due to the breakable nature of the porcelain figures. The horseman on the white steed crossing the bridge was missing his head, which gave him kind of a mysterious air.

When I got married, my parents made me my own Christmas village. It was built sturdy, of course, so that kids could play with it. Because I spent a semester in London during college, my Christmas village has a British theme to it. My parents for a few years would add a piece each Christmas – Buckingham Palace, one year, Saint Paul's Cathedral the next. It's got a castle too, as well as a little tea shop modeled after my favorite tea shop in London, and the Mitre, which was my favorite pub.

My father has no use for delicate Christmas decorations that kids aren't supposed to touch, and he has always said, "Let kids play with the village. If they break anything, I'll fix it."

So that has always been the rule. When families with young kids come here and I hear the parents starting to tell their kids not to touch the village, I always jump in and say, "Oh, they are supposed to play with the village. Kids are allowed to touch whatever they want in the village." The kids always give me a grateful look and then flop down on their stomachs to move around the houses and push the train through. It can entertain them for hours.

When I look at the village the next day after having young visitors, I'll often notice strange things – like all the people lined up on the flat roof of the British museum, as if evacuating from a fire. One of my own kids used to like to put all the pine trees in one spot so that it looked like a Christmas tree lot. When Boy in Black's friends were in seventh grade, they eagerly set up the village for me, and took apart the pine trees so that they had a pile of trees and a pile of trunks. They made a little sign that said, "Trees $15, Trunks $5."

I can remember that SweetFunny Extra especially liked the broken parts of the village, particularly some of the mangled trees we'd gotten at a place that sold model trains. He would hold up a tree that still looked like a tree and say, "Here is a tree." Then he would hold up a mangled tree, all twisted and contorted: "Here is a tree on drugs."

The cats, too, have been known to wander through the village, or curl up near it. You might think this would cause the villagers to panic and run, like they always did in the Godzilla movies, but luckily, inanimate figures continue to smile and ice skate no matter what danger hovers nearby. I've come to think that the village looks peaceful with a sleepy cat in the background, nestled behind the castle or the cathedral, like a furry dragon that hovers in the mountains to protect the people from harm.

30 comments:

raehan said...

Okay, it's official.

I love you.

Can my kids play with your village?

Anonymous said...

It's beautiful! I've never seen a Christmas village before. What a great idea!

Sue said...

What a lovely village! All of the Christmas villages I've seen are on tables with fancy lights inside each building. Little fingers are quickly taken away from them, which always struck me as kind of unfair. When you have something small and pretty, how can a child NOT reach out to touch it??

I love the hands-on village your parents created and the way you have carried on the tradition.

RageyOne said...

I love it! I especially like that your Christmas Village is kid friendly! :) I mean, is that a part of what Christmas is all about? The excitment of children?

Lucy said...

I hadn't seen a Christmas village before either. I want one :)

Anonymous said...

Despite the risks that it would entail, I really think that I would like it if the world had furry kitty dragons taking naps in open spaces.

Anonymous said...

My kids have been playing with all the ornaments low on our tree, which are not glass but they are breakable. We could use fix-it people like your parents around here. All I'm good with is glue!

Anonymous said...

WOW I have never had a Chritmas Villiage but have been intrigued with the idea. Now I may just get my hubby to build me one. He's good with tools. I can paint them.

hugs

Anonymous said...

What a great idea! I know what I am asking my husband for next Christmas! We always had the breakable one growing up and it was so painful to not be able to play with it...

It is gorgeous.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I love the idea that you keep the figurines missing heads and limbs. I don't see why the fact that one of them isn't perfect would get them expelled from the Christmas Village.

Anonymous said...

That's a great village. I don't like the fancy ones that cost too much money. But this is great.

ppb said...

I just love the idea of a giant cat in the background

Songbird said...

ppb took the words right out of my mouth.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

What a NICE story! You are SUCH a good story teller! YAY! :-D

Girl said...

We had a Christmas village at my grandparent's house. My grandfather was quite a handyman so he would make platforms and things for the trains and houses to stand on, so that gifts could still fit underneath.

TF loves trains, I hope that someday we can have a Christmas village too.

Bardiac said...

I love the idea of the village, especially for kids to play with. Your dad gets mad props for thinking in terms of kids playing!

Have a wonderful Christmas!

Anonymous said...

jo(e), I think this settles it. You officially have the most welcoming home on the planet.

I think your kids could shoot quite the horror film with that village and a little cooperation from the cat. *lol* It would be a great success on YouTube. Hehe.

Scrivener said...

That village is so, so cool.

Mona Buonanotte said...

As soon as our cat, the kleptomanic, looses that particular idiosyncracy, I'm getting a village...absolutely!

Anonymous said...

That is a beautiful village, and now I am jealous that I don't have a Christmas village that can go under the tree! (Only a few of those Dickens/light-up things that sit on the mantel.)

btw, jo(e), I just wanted to say that I've been catching up on your blog after a month or so of not missing, and your writing is really wonderful.

Merry Christmas!

BeachMama said...

What a beautiful village. Your parents are so talented. I would love a wooden village like that, the ones in the stores now are all made of porcelain or glass of some sort and would most likely break in our house.

What Now? said...

Oh, I love this! Now I want to have a Christmas village of my very own.

Yankee, Transferred said...

god, jo(e), how terrific.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Thank you, jo(e). I was feeling sad this evening and getting very little work done, and so I decided to see what you've written lately on your blog. And this has entirely cheered me up.

I love your Christmas village, and I especially love the fact that it's specially made so that children will play with it. When Chris gets home from work, I'm going to show him the picture and get him to read what you wrote. I'd like to start working on making our own Christmas village.

Kelly said...

Very cool!

ccw said...

This is a beautiful village.

My village cannot be played with, although the cats do sleep on the table. I love the idea of one that can be played with for years.

Anonymous said...

You make everything so like so much fun! I might have to start a village under my Christmas tree. Where do you put all the presents if the village is under the tree?

jo(e) said...

Leslee: Preents stay hidden in closets and get pulled out after midnight on Christmas Eve.

Marie said...

Just lovely. I'm so glad yours is meant to be played with. It seems so in keeping with your home and family.

Anonymous said...

but, jo(e), when do ya get the joy of sneaking into the lounge and feeling the presents to see what so-and-so is getting??
love the village too.