Christmas is less than 24 hours in the past, and Leslie Stevens of Coupeville already has designs for how she will decorate next year.
Like a modern-day Santa Claus, or perhaps Mrs. Claus or at the least an E.I.C. (elf in charge), Stevens is preoccupied by one day the other 364 days every year.
For the late-60s woman, a retired purchaser for a Texas-based chemical company, wife, mother and grandparent, the yuletide season never ends. Stevens, a native Texan with that trademark drawl, is renowned among her family, friends and neighbors and anyone lucky enough to be invited over between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day for the thematic decorations that adorn the home she and her husband Kirby built a decade ago.
This year’s theme, Woodland Christmas, may look a bit obvious to visitors given the forest surrounding her home. There are evergreen branches strategically placed, hung and strung on the front porch, door, foyer, and living room.
“She’s just gathered everything out of the woods and put it all over her house,” said Dianne West, a neighbor and friend of Stevens. “Last year, it was Victorian and she got thousands of Victorian postcards and lace.”
“It’s just beautiful,” West later added.
Each Christmas season for the past 10 years, Stevens has gone all out decorating her house, mostly on the inside. Each year had a different theme, different decorations and a different reason for that particular year’s focus.
On the fence outside the front of her home hung several evergreen boughs, mason jars and ribbons. A pair of sentinels greet guests at the front door; shaped like small, four-foot Christmas trees, they are actually a collection of fir branches wrapped together over an upside down tomato plant cage. Two more trees await visitors inside the Stevens home, one in the foyer and one in the living room. Both are artificial, for good reason.
“Once I started the Christmas season early, I couldn’t have a live tree up that long,” Stevens said. “It’s a fire hazard.”
Christmas decorations start being erected, placed, staged and hung in her home the Monday preceding Thanksgiving Day. The day after Thanksgiving, all the trees are trimmed, mantles are adorned, stockings are hung, and centerpieces are placed.
Getting everything ready by then is important: Stevens is on a deadline. Coming from Texas, she said she was accustomed to having weekly social engagements leading up to Christmas. Once she and her husband moved to Whidbey, the culture was different and she found herself longing for the parties, afternoon teas and six-course meals. So she took it upon herself to recreate a little sampling of the Lone Star State’s traditions.
“The season, for me, is people getting together, spending time together, talking about what’s going on,” she said.
Every weekend from Thanksgiving to Christmas, she hosts coffee klatches, full-service dinners, and cocktail parties, recreating a touch of her Texas upbringing.
Stevens made most of the decorations. On a bookcase mantle is a bed of fake snow, with snowmen wearing little caps. Stevens created the snowmen out of tree branch rounds she cut with a chop saw, then glued atop one another. Their hats were made from baby socks.
“When you’re like me, you have Christmas on the mind 12 months a year,” she said.
“For a while, the house is an absolute disaster while I’m making stuff,” Stevens added inside her immaculately cleaned home.
The bankroll is hardly what visitors expect. What decorations she didn’t make she bought at thrift stores and garage sales. Stevens said she spent no more than $200 on the new decorations, of which there are easily 100-plus items from tree ornaments and centerpieces to garland strands and boughs.
Stevens, a devout Christian, said the reason for the season always remains in her mind. One of the only mainstay decorations is a creche, a figurine display of the nativity scene with baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by animals, Mary, Joseph and the wisemen.
“It heralds in the birth of my savior,” Stevens said.
Going to such lengths to decorate her home is a means of self expression and gift giving, she said. Allowing family, friends and guests to relax in the surroundings of a meticulously decorated home can jumpstart people into the season.
“If it can just bring them a little bit more cheer, a little bit more holiday spirit, I’m happy,” she said.
Down in her storage room, Stevens said she has between 20 and 30 boxes of Christmas decorations. Some of the ornaments and adornments already out were eyed for their use next year. The white glass ornaments can stick around for Winter Wonderland, as can the snowmen.
After three days of taking down everything the week after New Year’s Day, three piles are made: One for keeping, one for family and friends, and one for thrift store donations. All of the decorations will see another life, much like Stevens’ belief in the new life offered by Jesus Christ.