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Couples collection boasts over 2,000 Christmas pieces
Gwen and John Decarli talk about their Christmas Village. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Come this time of year, those visiting Gwen and John DeCarli’s Crom Street home in Manteca often come away wowed by their Christmas Village display.

The front room is transformed into a sparkling winter wonderland of sort, consisting of everything from the North Pole to rural and suburbia America, to the streets of New York to Victorian England but only on a much smaller scale.

The majority of the over 350 buildings along with the over 1,600 accessories are from the Department 56 Collection.

“It’s important for all of the pieces to flow,” said Gwen, who received her first-ever piece – Victoria Station – from her husband John in 1988. That was the same year her friend, Joann Edward, gave her double-steeple church.

“I had no idea (back then) that it would someday look like this,” she added.

Those original two pieces are still part of the current Christmas Village display, occupying the over 300 square-foot space otherwise known as the living room and dining room.

“I like just stand right here (in the front room) and enjoying it,” Gwen DeCarli said.

Department 56 is a company founded in 1976 that manufactures gift items, most notably, miniature porcelain collectible buildings especially during the holidays.

Locally, many of the Department 56 items were purchased in Keller’s in Modesto. Gwen also picked up pieces for her collection in the Amador County town of Jackson.

This year, she started assembling the Christmas Village about three months ago, with each piece repackaged in its original box after being taken out of storage. This process may be tedious but, for Gwen DeCarli, this hobby is her labor of love.

“It has to be put together in stages,” said John. “We start with the North Pole, where everything is strategically located.”

The soft fabric doubling as snow actually covers up the hutch, curio and dining table. The small scaled power lines were converted into a ski lift made especially for the North Pole elves.

Throughout the entire display are a little bit of everything, including motorcycle riders aboard Harleys, circus performers, and several Santa Clauses.

Many of the Department 56 items are done in great detail. The Time Square building, for example, with a replica New Year’s ball is designed to actually drop at the count of midnight, if need be.

John DeCarli assembled the base of the Christmas Village and even designed and handmade the Styrofoam hillside used for the snow village. Many of the items in this part of the front room conceal the living room sofa and chairs.

His wife – the DeCarlis have three children, Michele, Johnny and Samantha – put the same effort into the arrangement of the Christmas Village as that of a city planner and developer.

The commercial areas have their share of the chain establishments, from McDonald’s to Starbucks. One section is totally rural while another part is made up of residential homes.

There’s also a Disneyland along with Buckingham Palace placed next to merry old England.

“We have the 12 days of Christmas for anyone looking to do the challenge,” Gwen said.

The display isn’t put up every year. The effort putting everything together and placed in the proper location is time consuming. The starting point here is anywhere from late August or September and remaining on display until the spring.

“It takes another two to three months to put everything back in the proper boxes,” said John DeCarli, who indicated that the total value of the collectibles is priceless based on the joy it brings to family, friends and guests.

Many see it for the first time during the ‘Lighting of the Village.’

“It’s a big event at the house,” he said. “The best time to see it is at night when everything is all lit up.”