S M Natale Writer & Novelist

Where Stories Begin

Christmas Villages, Department 56 Collecting

Written By: S. M. Natale

You Really Have To Love A Collector


Being the husband of a Department 56 collector, (and because I love my wife) I will not be writing anything that could be considered a complaint about the work involved with “assisting” in setting up one of these Christmas Villages. I will tell you husbands, if your wives are considering embarkation on a journey into the fabulous world of Department 56, be prepared. You will need lots of power tools and a degree in electrical engineering should they ever arrive at a state which is commonly considered a “collector.”


This state, of what I call Christmas insanity, at our house begins before Thanksgiving when I am designated to rearrange all the furniture, which includes the “PITA job” {Pain In The ( ! ) job} of relocating and then reconfiguring all the satellite and audio/video cabling for the entertainment center, you know, the Flat screen TV, Amplifier, Blu-ray and DVD players, satellite receiver, VCR, surround sound system and a crap load of wiring that invariably takes hours to untangle then reconnect.


This portion of the job must be completed before Thanksgiving Day…..FOOTBALL


It is also a given that the “chosen” display area/Construction zone is never in the same place, so it’s not like I can just move the stuff from one place to another and then back again each year. I might also add that furniture rearrangement is not just the seating area around the entertainment center. NO that would be too easy…. it’s the whole freakin’ house! Because apparently only some of our furniture matches the Christmas decorating motif, while the rest has to be moved into bedrooms or the Florida room or (Grrrr) my office. But of course to do that, the furniture in all those rooms has to be repositioned and naturally any addition has to fit the revamped décor and functionality of that particular room, because and I’ll quote my task master, “You never know who is going to show up a Christmas.”

I can only assume the Inspector General (or a Mother-in-Law) may show up, because the kids, our friends, or a wayward Santa wandering the streets on Christmas Eve looking for a hot toddy just aren’t going to care.

This year I had to move the furniture twice because the couch was too close to the “traffic path” and you couldn’t see the antique desk, (hell I could see it, I moved it there…and without tripping over the couch I might add). Apparently my Feng Shui was off the compass.


And so it, (the Christmas Season), begins.

Christmas Past

Decorating for Christmas did not used to be this way. When I first met my wife she celebrated the Holiday Season in what would be considered “normal” fashion. You know, a tree, a wreath, some garland, a few strings of lights and she had two or three of these cute little porcelain lighted houses that, as I learned, she received as gifts. I noted, (my first mistake) that of all of her Christmas modest decorations, these Department 56 houses were seemingly her most prized possessions. Somewhere in her condo they would be prominently displayed, and not as you might imagine just sitting on a shelf or a table. They would be carefully arranged around some type of craft made pond with trees and toy reindeer, all set atop white flocking with plastic snow.

So being the wonderful guy I am, I embarked on a quest to give her a new piece each year, (mistake number two).  That was in 1994. Since then I have gotten quite an education in Department 56 lore, collecting, and most especially the importance of retired pieces. Now these little houses typically retail, depending upon the size, configuration and village association, for anywhere between $45.00 and $175.00. (and yes, it’s a knick knack)

Once a particular piece is “retired,” the sale price takes on a whole different aspect in profit margin theory. And that’s a whole other article, but for our purposes here “retired” means they just don’t make’em anymore and as I discovered, can be, let’s call it, pricy.

Set Up is Now Construction

I might also at this juncture remind you that I really love my wife, a lot. Because if you did the math, you might be thinking okay he’s writing about 18 pieces, and you ordinarily would be correct. Two or three to start, adding one piece per year for 15 years that’s about 18, no big deal, well no, not including accessories, figurines, trees, ponds, lighted street lamps and I could go on and on. My wife, the collector, now enjoys more than three times that number. All of which are now “retired” pieces, I don’t even want to think about their value, but I do know how much I spent encouraging this “hobby.” Hell I’m afraid of getting an insurance quote.

Did I happen to mention there are now also seven Christmas trees in our house? Yes I said “in” and only one of them is under four feet tall. The other six trees are, well, taller. So you can begin to see where this is headed. It should also be noted the number of trees above does not include the lighted trees in the bathroom, on the bar, or the revolving tree in the center of the Christmas Village. So the real number is ten lighted Christmas trees in the house, but I have been informed, (by my Wife) that any tree under 3 feet tall does not count.IMG_0523

Now I’m not sure were these Christmas rules come from, but apparently I unknowingly had been breaking the metaphysical laws of the Christmas Season for quite a while. Silly me, believing that only one tree per household was enough. So now, because I love my wife, I redefine the uses of Ohm’s Law to get enough power throughout the house to drive the 50+ some strings of lights woven in these trees. One tree, the largest, and arguably the most beautiful, certainly the brightest holds 22 of those strings; eleven gold and eleven red, electrically arranged so that the tree can be lit in red and gold, all red or all gold, depending upon my wife’s mood and which Inspector General is coming to the house. But let’s get back to Villages, see what happens; tangents. You go off on tangents and end up with a baker’s dozen of Christmas trees.

The most elaborate Christmas Village set up was a multi-tiered, (this is where the power tools come in guys), landscape of over 200 square feet of village taking up about one half of a 16 ft x 33 ft living room. The base of the “landscape” is a combination of eight hand-built platforms of varying heights and shapes. Remember the electrical engineering degree? Underneath is a “network” 13 something extension cords, most of which I customized, since a normal extension cord is not exactly designed for the uses my wife devises in her “arrangements.” She has a degree, but it’s in Creative Writing for her authorship of my Honey Do List, with a graduate degree in “I know he’ll do it.”

It takes five different switches to turn on all these lighted beauties, including two late additions that my son has to crawl under the tables to turn on. All in all there are over 60 items that require power. Not including (gulp) what I have added. I must divulge, not wanting to be left out as a collector of sorts, I joined the party, with electric trains, 5 sets this particular year. Hell, I already got all the tools.

And yes, I also must admit, once it’s finally finished, which will most likely be on New Year’s Eve, (Yes I know I said New Years, that’s the point), it really looks great. Just in time to take it down. I expect, following this publishing, the county will require me to pull a permit before construction begins next year.

But guys, this is a great way to ask Santa for all those power tools… or your wife for that other thing you have been wanting.

Christmas Past to Future InsanityDSC01595

Below I am going to post a series of pictures that reflect…the urban expansion of the North Pole and it’s subsidiary suburb of a New England Village. Major expansion began in 2001 but for our purposes here, which is to demonstrate the progression from normal collector to levels of insanity attaining the Christmas level, the pictures below are from 2007 through 2011 and this year’s still, (as of this publishing) incomplete construction. Also to the right is a snapshot of the Department 56 display at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, which I have been informed is apparently a concept design model for next year and to which my wife believes, I am to equal. Let’s just forget Disney has a team of Imagineers, Artists and Craftsmen, unlimited resources and all damn year to get it done.


But then again…….I love my wife……I just keep saying it over and over and over……


PAGE NOTE: Please allow time for the below Picture Books to load, it takes a minute or so, they’re chuck full of Pics and check back because the webmaster is still adding pics





Construction 2011



Great you made it all the way down here. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.

If you are wondering, which items are the most valuable to Department 56 collectors. In this collection take a look at pictures, see if you can find a set of seven houses. If you look closely (use the zoom feature) you will see each house has a wreath with a letter in the center. Each letter is the initial of the establishment. This wreath decoration, in the North Pole Series, was only made once. These pieces were introduced beginning in May 1991 through December of 1992 in limited production runs and were retired by 1996 with the exception of one which was retired in 1999.

The Pieces Are:DSC01518

Neenee’s Dolls & Toys

Orley’s Bell & Harness Supply

Rimpy’s Bakery

Tassy’s Mittens

Hassel’s Wollies

Post Office

Obbie’s Books

Letrinka’s Candy

Elfie’s Sleds & Skates

When arranged in the correct order the initials inside the wreathes spell


Individually to the collector that is missing one or more of the letters, their value is skyrocketing. The value of a full set, according to some dealers, is in the thousands of dollars, though to my little collector these pieces are priceless.

Well, Christmas season 2012 has rolled around and construction again begins. The County, as expected, has denied our request for permitting so the North Pole’s urban sprawl is under a temporary expansion moratorium. This year’s display occupies a very conservative amount of floor space compared to other years, granting a bit more living space and a thankful reduction in the power bill given that there is only landscape for just two sets of trains, though the other sets will be located around some of the “seven” Christmas trees. The pictures are forthcoming.




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