It takes a village...A Christmas village that is
Helper is officially Utah's Christmas Town, and when one looks around the town they can see lights on homes nearly everywhere.
Most people know about all the activities, particularly the parades and the fireworks. But few people know about what Janis Carlson in north Helper has done inside her home in celebration of the holiday. When one walks through the door it is a Christmas village extravaganza.
Now there may be bigger displays somewhere in the county, but undoubtedly there are none that are as unique, diverse or that come from the four corners of the earth like hers.
Dozens of small buildings, figures and accessories adorn the front room of the home, taking up about a third of the floor space and a good portion of wall space on the north wall of the home.
There are two defining aspects of this miniature Christmas village under the Carlson's tree that enchant. One is the movement of the pieces. The second is where each and every little scene came from.
"I began putting the collection together and setting it up in 1979 when my son was on a church mission to the Philippines," she said as the glow of the lights from the scene flashed on her face and she pointed to a small red house behind the tree. "I got that little red house as a present and that began it all."
Now for most normal collectors of almost anything, catalogues and in this day and age the internet might make the perfect collecting tool. But Janis is more place oriented than that. She and Gene decided it was time to make their travels to far away places mean more than just some snapshots and memories. They decided to buy what they needed for their village in the places they went. Soon part of each trip became the passion to find a new part for the winter scene that begins constrution right around Halloween each year and ends at Thanksgiving time.
Many of the buildings and figures came from the lands they portray. For instance, a representation of Big Ben stands over an elevated British street that features a double decker bus and miniature British soldiers that portray those that guard Buckingham Palace.
"I remember one time Janis had a particular shop she wanted to visit while we were traveling in Europe," said Gene as he explained his role in the whole thing. "We rode on a train for hours, and then transferred to a bus that took some time to get us to the shop she wanted to visit. We ended up with a piece no bigger than my small finger that cost 50 cents."
While the two have traveled all over the world getting pieces and buildings for the village, they have been able to make great friends on every continent, and have wonderful memories of their travels.
As with most people putting the scene up is an exciting adventure each year. Janis says that some years putting it together is easier than others.
"This year it went very well, easier than some," she said.
When taking it down after the new year everything has a place and a box. Gene built a storage room as long as the house in the basement where he has shelves for all her equipment, buildings, figurines and wiring.
Speaking of wire, that can be particularly troublesome.
"If something goes wrong electrically at the back of the scene, it has to wait until we take it down to be fixed," she said. "We can't get to it."
Gene says there are hundreds of feet of wiring in the village to make it run and that when they start it up he can see "a definite jump in the power bill. I had a 200 amp service and five extra breakers put in to power this and the outside displays we have," he stated.
That's right. There is more outside too, but on a larger scale. Everything from a manger scene to carrollers to a lit up snowman collection that is probably as big or bigger than anything in the county.
"The outside is Genes to put up, this is mine," says Janis as she looked at the village under the tree.
The moving parts of the village will captivate any kid from nine to 90. There are skiers, people in bumper cars at an amusement park and a recreation of a hot air balloon that moves across the amusement park, one of the highlights of the scene.
There is also a serious, religious side to this village with many representations of famous religious buildings from all over the world; St. Peters Bacilica from Italy, St. Paul's from London and the Salt Lake LDS Temple. There are also four other churches in the village.
With numerous grandkids and great-grandkids in the family, it would seem this miniature scene might have some problems come the time for young visitors, but Janice said it really isn't as much of a problem as one would think.
"They certainly are interested in it, and we have had a few problems over the years, but for the most part the little ones just love it and look at it," she said.
So as Gene and Janice take their trips around the world the village will continue to grow, to entertain and to captivate all who enter their home and their wonderful Christmas village.