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Indoor trimmings reflect family traditions, personalities

Richard and Mary McCrady enjoy hosting company around the holidays. Thus, attractive dinner table settings are an important part of their Christmas decorations. Marie Nitke/FOCUS1 / 2
Richard and Mary McCrady like to play up the warmth and charm of their country log home in their Christmas decorations. The couple loves to decorate for the holidays, for both their own family members as well as houseguests. Marie Nitke/FOCUS2 / 2

Icicle lights dangling down from roofs, red and green spotlights shining on outdoor wreaths and nativity scenes, giant blow-up snowmen and smiling Santa Clauses perched in front yards... driving around Perham lately, it’s easy to see how many people are getting into the holiday spirit.

But what’s going on inside those homes? How is that feeling of Christmas expressed in people’s living rooms, on their mantels, tables, floors and walls? Those details are unknown to the outside world, yet are equally expressive and meaningful. In fact, in many cases, more so.

The inside of a home is where personal stories are made and kept, where the personalities of the inhabitants are most strongly reflected, where decorations not only serve a creative purpose but also tell an intimate story about the people who live there – their lifestyles, family histories and traditions.

Take the home of Trudy Swanson, for example. Because she loves to entertain at the holidays, Swanson goes all out with her Christmas decorations, and sets an elaborate dinner table for her guests.

On the lower level of her home, nestled in one of her Christmas trees, is a birds’ nest that she’s kept preserved for more than 40 years. The nest was discovered in one of the first live trees her family ever cut down for Christmas, when her boys were young kids. She later learned that finding a nest in a Christmas tree is considered to be a blessing, so she’s saved it all these years, always finding a spot for it on the tree.

This nest was discovered in one of the first live trees Swanson's family ever cut down for Christmas.

That story, and others like it, give glimpses into the lives of others, and can serve as inspiration to those who may be looking to start new traditions in their own families, or who just want some fun and interesting new decorating ideas for their own homes.

Following is a peek inside the homes of just a few of the many Perham area residents whose holiday decorations say a little something special about them and the holiday season.

Trudy Swanson

One of Trudy Swanson’s favorite things to do is entertain.

“I love it,” she said. “I love gathering people together. I find it fun and easy.”

At Christmas, she’s become known for her annual women’s get-together. What started as a small Bible study group seven years ago has grown into a much bigger party – this year, somewhere around 80 to 95 women attended, socializing and singing carols.

She also usually hosts her family around Christmas time.

For these reasons, Swanson likes her home to be warm and inviting at Christmas. For a number of years, she’s enlisted the help of professional local designers from Periwinkle and Refreshing Designs to achieve a well-coordinated look that is still practical for everyday life while functioning well for large group gatherings.

This translates into an elegant and intricately set dining room table, a tall evergreen tree that serves as a grand centerpiece for the main living space in the house, and smaller but equally embellished decorations that match in color, materials and sparkle scattered throughout the home.

There are also personal touches quietly mixed in with the overall theme and effect, such as a miniature nativity scene displayed on a table at the front entrance. The piece has been in the family for a long time, Swanson said, and she adds a new figurine to it every year. There have gotten to be so many figurines that she’s started spreading them into other rooms of the home, placing them in such an order that, when ‘reading’ them from one direction to another, they tell the classic Christmas story in perfect order.

Richard and Mary McCrady

The McCrady’s snow-covered log home in the country has Christmas written all over it, and the couple loves to play that up.

The scene is set before a person even steps inside, as Christmas music plays through speakers easily heard from outside the front entrance and lighted reindeer and other decorations line a path to the house.

Once inside, though, visitors really get a true sense of the McCrady’s love of the holidays. Greens line the stairwell, mistletoe hangs in large bunches from the entryway chandelier, multiple stockings hang from the fireplace mantel, and a large ornate tree and other decorations are in sight from almost every vantage point in the house. In fact, there’s not a room left untouched; every space – each bathroom included – has some sign of Christmas in it, with a holiday vase here or a statuette there.

The home was designed especially for the couple, Richard and Mary, and their children, who are grown and have families of their own but still come to visit fairly often. It’s a “lived in” home, Mary said, and the log design gives it a warm, cozy, slightly rustic feel – all qualities that are incorporated into the holiday décor.Mary and Richard McCrady, with their two dogs, love to entertain guests at the holidays.

With coordinated details integrated throughout the home’s decorations, such as birch bark and miniature old-fashioned wooden sleds, there’s a theme that flows from the Christmas tree into every room of the house. To help achieve the professional look, the McCrady’s enlisted Stephanie Ellingson of Periwinkle in Ottertail.

Like Trudy Swanson, the McCrady’s like to entertain, not only their own family but also guests from the community. This year, Richard said, they’ve hosted a group dinner at their home, which was auctioned off as part of a fundraising effort for the local Boys and Girls Club. Another dinner is planned for January. For this reason, the table setting is a central part of their decor, as well.

“We like to entertain,” said Richard. “It’s fun. We love our house; we enjoy showing it. It’s a house that we’ve made a home out of.”

Jo Ann and Edgar Emerson

Sometimes, holiday decorations don’t just reflect the Christmas spirit, they’re a product of it – and they don’t need to be extravagant to add an extra special and personal touch to a home.

Such is the case with the Emerson’s ‘triple’ Christmas tree.

Seated in front of the couple’s fireplace, the set of three smaller-sized artificial evergreen trees was given to them years ago by a friend. That same friend has been visiting every season since – including around Christmas time – to redecorate the trees for them.

In the spring, the trees are often decorated for Easter, in the fall, with autumn-colored leaves, and in the summer, they’re usually decked out in a brightly-colored theme. It’s done differently every time.

For this year’s Christmas, they’re ornamented in shades of gold, red and white, adding a welcome dash of the holidays into the Emerson’s living room.

“We like it, because it gives our home a Christmas feel,” said Jo Ann.

Since the Emersons no longer do much decorating of their own, and they won’t be traveling to visit their kids at Christmas this year, as they’ve done in the past, the ‘triple’ tree gives them a sense of warmth, comfort and friendship at the holidays.

What better gift for a friend to give than that?

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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