By LANDON WOODROOF
Alice and Jay Conner could probably get away with charging admission to their spectacularly decorated home around Christmas time. While the light display outside catches your eye, it is really indoors that the full extent of the Conners’ work comes into view.
Each room is festooned with countless holiday decorations, big and small. Fifteen trees share space with animatronic Santa Clauses, snowy model villages, merrily bedecked figurines and basically anything Christmas-themed you can think of.
“It is a labor of love,” Alice Conner said at her home on Thursday evening.
More than that, it is a kind of festive exercise in memory and a celebration of the places and people the Conners have known and cared for throughout their lives. These are not just generic, one-size-fits all decorations that Alice Conner puts up in her home. They all have personal meanings, with different trees dedicated to different subjects that she and Jay are passionate about.
“Everything is sort of based on travel and experiences,” she said.
Alice Conner likes to start Christmas-izing the house around the first of November each year. It takes a good couple of weeks to get everything set up, and she and Jay like to have plenty of time to savor all that hard work.
“With all the effort, you want to enjoy it as much as you can because Christmas you plan, plan, plan and prepare, prepare, prepare and then it’s over,” Jay Conner said.
Alice Conner traces her love of Christmas back to her childhood and, more specifically, her father.
“My dad did not decorate a tree,” she said. “He dressed a tree. Every ornament was placed purposefully.” He would put icicles on the tree thoughtfully, one at a time.
Alice Conner said she did not have much in the way of Christmas decor when she and Jay first got married in 1969.
“When you’re first married you’re lucky to have a little teeny tiny tree,” she said.
Over the years, though, her passion for the season began to show itself more and more through her decorations. She assigned trees themes that were meaningful to her. The Alice in Wonderland tree, named for her favorite Disney character and fellow Alice. The Mary Kay tree, pink in honor of the business she has worked at for forty years. The orange and white University of Tennessee tree, which…needs no explanation around here.
Most of the full-size trees in the Conners’ home started out as 2-foot trees until Alice Conner had to switch them out for larger models as she accumulated more ornaments.
Alice Conner has some tips for building such a large collection.
“Almost everything I buy, I buy after Christmas on sale,” she said. “If it’s meant for me to have, it’ll still be there.”
She’s been trying to slow down on the new Christmas decorations lately, but that does not mean she is no longer interested.
“I don’t need much anymore now, but I still like to go look,” Conner said. “You never know if you’re going to find that treasure.”
This time of year, the Conners love entertaining at their home. They have several annual parties for close friends and co-workers and are always happy to share the Christmas spirit with others.
“If I’m going to go to this much trouble, I love to share it,” Alice Conner said. “I have friends who bring their children or grandchildren by to see it. To me that is just part of the joy of the season, celebrating the birth of Jesus and celebrating with friends and family.”
The Conners have no plans to put an end to their annual Christmas displays, but Alice did say she could imagine a future where they alternate years between more low key decorating and the full on experience.
It is a lot of work, after all, but work that Alice and Jay Conner still seem contented to do each year.
“Getting started is the hardest part, but once I start it’s a walk down memory lane,” she said. “Every tree, every decoration I pull out has a history, has a story behind it. It either belonged to someone I knew or loved or we got it somewhere we traveled, or it reminds me of a vacation.”