When most people were thinking about decorating for Halloween, Forsyth County resident Ivy McKinley was busy hauling out Christmas decorations.
Why so early? Well, according to McKinley, it takes about that long to decorate 20 Christmas trees and her entire house.
“Sometimes, I might work a few hours, but once I begin decorating a tree, I usually like to keep going until I finish it,” she said.
Of course, there are not only trees to decorate, but many Nutcrackers, teddy bears, snowmen, wreaths and, of course, Santas to arrange.
McKinley’s love of all things Christmas began as a toddler.
“I was just lucky enough to be born to parents who also loved Christmas and wanted it to be a magical time for me,” she said. “And it always was.”
Some of McKinley’s earliest memories are of decorating for Christmas and making crafts.
“I think I was 4 years old when I decorated my first Christmas tree for my bedroom,” she said. “Daddy smoked a pipe, so we had all of these pipe cleaners. I used them to make wreaths.”
She also recalled using paper to make chains, snowflakes and angels.
McKinley said her parents held an open house every year during the Christmas season, adding that she and husband Larry “also host an open house and usually have anywhere from 60 to 80 people.”
During a recent visit to the couple’s home, it was not hard to see why people may want a tour. Entering is sort of akin to walking into a museum of Santa’s workshop.
The foyer is filled with Santa’s, Nutcrackers, teddy bears and dolls. To one side, an English library has been transformed into “The Victorian Room.”
A Christmas tree is decorated with various Victorian items and dolls, lace and ribbons line the beautiful, handcrafted book shelves built by her husband.
There are also photos of McKinley’s beloved late parents, as well as her own children. The book shelves are peppered with things from her childhood and that of her kids.
A nearby room is known as “The Angel Room.” Here, McKinley displays many of the dolls her mother made when she was a child.
“Mommy was so gifted and creative,” she said. “She was always making dolls, doll clothes and all sorts of things.”
Every item has a story and McKinley is adept at remembering all of them.
“This elephant was on a baby gift for me before I was born,” she explained. “My parents thought I was going to be a boy.”
In the family room of the McKinleys’ home stands what she referred to as “the mother ship,” a nearly 10-foot tall tree decorated from top to bottom.
“All of the Christmas trees in our home came originally from the main tree,” she said. “I would notice that I had so many of a certain item, so I decided to start another tree.”
Among the others are trees that celebrate teddy bears, the wilderness, sweaters, hats, seashells and all things Irish. There’s even a tree decorated completely with earrings.
McKinley, who has always loved toys, said she was taught to take care of her belongings. Thus, she still has numerous toys from her childhood.
“We raised our three children to also take care of their things,” she said. “Sometimes, I worry that children are not being taught this. People tend to just throw things away.”
McKinley shared how her children always had Christmas trees in their bedrooms growing up.
So many of the decorations for her home and trees are items she had on hand.
“I love to use things by re-purposing them,” she said. “Many of the decorations I have I made myself,” she said pointing to a wreath made from angel Christmas cards and a tree made by gluing candy together.
Not surprisingly, McKinley is an encyclopedia of Christmas tree advice.
“One of the most important things you can do is to wire your tree to the wall,” she said. “I learned that the hard way when one year my tree fell over.”
She also advises residents to make sure they store trees and decorations in plastic containers instead of cardboard boxes, which can become moist and also attract pests.
Perhaps most importantly, McKinley said a Christmas tree and home should be a reflection of the owner.
“Everything doesn’t have to be just red and green,” she said. “Use things you love to decorate with, things you collect or re-purpose.”
McKinley said she is thankful she had parents who instilled in her a love for the Christmas season.
“I adopted my mom and dad’s philosophy completely,” she said. “They always said if you give someone a happy memory, you’ve given them such a gift. I am happy to try to continue that tradition.”