Crazy about Santa

MONMOUTH -- Marie Kristiansen has only a modest number of decorations outside of her home at a time of the year when the goal is typically to have the brightest and most festive house on the block.

MONMOUTH -- Marie Kristiansen has only a modest number of decorations outside of her home at a time of the year when the goal is typically to have the brightest and most festive house on the block.

Inside, however, there's no escaping the Christmas spirit.

There's a nativity scene in her dining room and seven Christmas trees scattered throughout the rooms. "Jingle Bell Rock" seems to resonate from every corner. Furniture, tables and almost everything else is covered in some degree of red, green or white.

And then, there are the Santas.

They greet you as you walk inside. They line the stairs to the second floor. All shapes and colors, they're on prominent display on mantle pieces and shelves.

The basement is packed with Santa-related memorabilia, ranging from a 1950s era LP record of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" to the jolly big man piloting a University of Oregon sleigh.

"It's absolutely marvelous," said Phyllis Harriman of Independence, who, along with her grandchildren, is among a crowd in the Kristiansen home this day. "I decorate at home and I always felt like I had more stuff than I need ...."

Kristiansen has been collecting -- more like receiving, if you ask her -- Santa statues, miniatures, ornaments and dolls for nearly 40 years. At last count, she was up to 700 items.

Family, friends and neighbors have made a habit of dropping by when the Santas come out. Shortly after Kristiansen and her husband, Roy, moved to Monmouth 21 years ago, she decided to hold an open house once a year to alleviate people's curiosity.

"It gives me joy," said Marie Kristiansen, who also encourages food and baby-supply donations during visits to give to local charities. "And that joy and love, you've got to share it with other people."

If Kristiansen spots a Santa statue, miniature, doll or ornament she likes, she'll buy it. But the vast majority of her collection are items given to her by those aware of her habit, she said.

"I found this outside my door when I was decorating for Halloween once," Kristiansen said, brandishing a painted, porcelain Santa. "To this day, I have no idea who brought it to me.

"People won't stop bringing them."

The daughter of Irish immigrants, Kristiansen's affinity for the holiday harkens back to a childhood in the Bronx in New York City.

Her mother used to "save her pennies" all year, then whisk Kristiansen and siblings off to Radio City Music Hall, downtown stores and the automat for lunch as a Christmas present.

"Mom didn't have enough room for decorations with four rooms and seven kids," Kristiansen said. "She collected children and grandchildren."

The first in Kristiansen's collection are a Mr. and Mrs. Claus the pair made from beads and Styrofoam after marrying 37 years ago. Also precious is an Irish Santa figurine from her mother.

"It sings Christmas in Killarney, of course," she said.

The collection spans almost all of the house, including a bathroom, and is displayed done in themes; one bedroom is decked out with Santas from Germany, Poland, Argentina and other countries.

Sometimes, Kristiansen even has a real Santa on hand. Dean Levie, a friend and a veteran mall Santa, showed up in his custom red and white suit to entertain children on this day.

The items are stored in closets, the garage and an outdoor shed. Setting up takes three to four days.

Roy Kristiansen doesn't mind; he's got a sizable Star Trek collection and a room devoted to model trains.

"She can't tell me to stop and I can't tell her to stop," he said with a laugh.

The open houses, which in recent years have drawn 50 to 60 people, will probably continue for another five or 10 years, Marie Kristiansen said. The collection, meanwhile, will continue. And the inside of the Kristiansen house will remain more festive than the outside.

"I'm no electrician," Marie Kristiansen said. "But if I was, this place would be something else."


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