Effingham Daily News
Jackie Ruholl decorates 60 Christmas trees every year.
Not six. Not 16. And each one of them is special.
"They're never the same," Ruholl said. "Never ever the same. I probably have close to 150 trees, all total."
It's a collection of Yuletide paraphernalia that's taken more than 35 years to gather and it hasn't slowed. Ruholl said she bought a tree last week, and she's always acquiring new ornaments.
As Ruholl would say, "the Christmas bug bit" her as a child in her hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. She said she would go downtown with her family during the holidays and look in all the storefront windows.
"They were all decorated so amazingly," she said.
From then on, she said when she was at a place she could begin collecting, she would. Only one tree remains constant: one decorated in 1950's-era workshop elves, busily readying things for Christmas. One covered in gingerbread men that look good enough to eat. One covered in surprisingly festive frogs. And, of course, 57 other different, immaculate designs.
Decades later, it's become a family affair. Her daughter, who now lives near Fredericksburg, Va., has her own Christmas collection and Ruholl's husband, Alan, comes up with ideas and helps decorate.
It's a process that begins in October and takes two months, but the work doesn't stop when the baubles and bells are packed back up. Family members, friends and even auctioneers Ruholl has met all call her when they see something they think she might like. She said she always encourages them to pick it up, and she does the same for others.
All the handiwork isn't for the family alone, though. Between Christmas walk-throughs sponsored by local Rotary clubs and gatherings of friends, Ruholl said between 400 and 500 people walk through her forest of Christmas trees each holiday season.
"We just want to share it," she said. "It's about seeing friends you haven't seen in a while."
Ruholl collection and showmanship isn't just Yuletide-exclusive. When a friend purchased Thelma Keller's house, she asked if Ruholl wanted the 1950s era original kitchen, from cabinets to the stove and refrigerator. The kitchen is set up in the Ruholl's barn, built by Alan to display the historical pieces, as well as store all the other antiques and Christmas trees.
There's also a mock storefront set up in the style of a classic general store, with antique wood from the barn and one-room schoolhouse that stood on the property when the Ruholl's bought it.
Like the house, people come every year to explore the kitchen.
"The biggest thing for me is watching people's faces when they go through," she said.
Though she decorates for every holiday, from Easter to Flag Day, Ruholl said Christmas is her favorite.
"I think it's just a great time for family," she said. "For me, it's just about bringing everybody together."
Next year, she said, she and her husband are planning a full, life-size nativity scene for their yard, complete with camels. As for the house, she said some days she thinks she's getting too old for all the work involved. But, inevitably, people ask her whether she's decorating again and asking what the theme will be and when they can come see it. For that reason, she said she doesn't want to stop.
"I just want people to enjoy it," she said.