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The Christmas lady
When it comes to getting into the Christmas spirit, Santa’s got nothing on Sharon Vrecko.
For more than 40 years, the decorating dynamo has turned her home into a Christmas wonderland, an annual tradition she shows no sign of abandoning any time soon.
“I just love Christmas,” smiles Vrecko, who is wearing Christmas tree earrings, a Santa teddy bear sweater, and dark slacks patterned with wreaths, candy canes and presents.
A visit to her home last week offered a tantalizing preview.
“Usually, my target date is Dec. 1,” says Vrecko, who explains it all began in 1967 – the first year she was married. She had $80 to spend on decorations, and went to the Army and Navy department store.
It was “more than enough to totally decorate our one-bedroom apartment,” she recalls.
These days, she’s got a lot more floor (and wall) space to work with. If she sees a decoration or collectible she likes, she buys it, but keeps strictly focused. “I don’t just ‘buy’ like I used to. I think.”
Everything – from the miniature Santas representing countries (and family members) around the globe to tiny, snow-covered Christmas towns – is carefully arranged, contained to specific sections of rooms or pieces of furniture.
“I try and theme everything.”
A collection of angels gracing the piano in the corner of the family room is her pride and joy.
“I walked into a Christmas store about nine years ago, and I saw them.” She planned to buy one and start collecting.
“I walked through the store with one, and then I thought, ‘No! I have to have them all now!’ I went back and I bought ‘em all. And I’m glad I did, because the next year, they didn’t have them. They never made them again.”
Now retired from her job at Canada Post (although she still helps answer letters to Santa) Vrecko used to spend her tips from letter-carrying on Christmas collectibles.
As she points to various items, a memory sweeps into focus with each one.
A holdout against artificial trees she relented after her husband bought her a rotating artificial tree that was pre-lit.
She was skeptical at first. “He says, ‘you only have to use it for a couple of years, and it will pay for itself, and you can go back to your live tree.”
Predictably, she loves it now.
She used to take an entire week off work to get all her decorating done, starting as soon as her four sons (now grown) went off to school, taking a break for supper, and then continuing into the evening.
It now takes her a month to complete the transformation, working in shifts of up to three hours. (A bad back prevents her from working longer.)
Vrecko is so crazy about Christmas, her kids urged her to name her sweet-natured whippet “Santa’s Little Helper” – like the dog on the Simpson’s – but she settled on “Holly” instead.
She’s looking forward to having her four sons and their wives and girlfriends over on Christmas Day.
She admits her enthusiasm for Christmas decor may have damped theirs a little.
“They like it…” she trails off momentarily, then adds: “I said, ‘What would you do if I didn’t do it? They said, ‘We wouldn’t care.’ But I think they would. I really do.”
Fortunately, the newer additions to the family – including a daughter-in-law from China and another from India – joined Vrecko for another favourite family tradition: girl’s night.
Each woman painted a window according to a Christmas theme that meant something to them personally, hence the red paper lanterns in one pane and a colourful peacock in another.
After Christmas, everything will be packed into boxes, and tucked away for another year.
How much has she spent on decorations over the years?