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Christmas Museum Evokes Memories of Holidays Past

  • Deborah Block

The National Christmas Center brings to mind the joy and memories of Yuletides past. The only Christmas museum in the world is full of nostalgia, and thousands of items, like vintage toys and ornaments. The privately-owned attraction in the small town of Paradise, Pennsylvania is considered one of the most Christmassy places in America.

And it’s no wonder.

In a toy room, charming toys from different eras line the shelves, like a jack-in-the-box, a wooden work bench, a sock monkey and other stuffed animals of all kinds. A small ballerina in a sparkly white dress twirls, while some bears and elves move in circles.

Revisiting a time gone by

“I love seeing the different toys, said visitor Lindsay Hallman. It definitely brings me back to when I was a kid, the excitement about Christmas.”

The toys and other stuff are new to her five-year-old son Brody, who is just as excited.

“There’s lots of lights and a lot of Christmas trees are up,” he said with delight.

Museum curator, Jim Morrison, now in his 70s, says he put his treasures in the museum to share his love of Christmas with others.

Museum curator, Jim Morrison, now in his 70s, says he put his treasures in the museum to share his love of Christmas with others.

Five-hundred Santa Clauses are scattered throughout the museum, which include figurines from the late 1800s. There’s Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, and Santa and other Father Christmas figures from different countries in an exhibit on Christmas around the world.

Today, museum curator, Jim Morrison, is dressed as Santa Claus from 100 years ago. He said the jolly old man’s clothing has changed over time.

“He had blue pants and a red top and white fur and that kind of developed into the red Santa we know today,” he explained.

About three-quarters of the objects in the center come from Morrison, whose enthusiasm for Christmas as a child prompted him to gather all things Christmas-related.

“There is a little train that my aunt gave me when I was three years old," he said. "That little train started all of this here.”

Five-hundred Santa Claus figures are scattered throughout the museum, including this North Pole workshop and an exhibit on Christmas around the world.

Five-hundred Santa Claus figures are scattered throughout the museum, including this North Pole workshop and an exhibit on Christmas around the world.

Now in his 70s, Morrison put his treasures into the1,800-square-meter building to share his love of Christmas with others.

Sparking imagination

Christmas has gotten to be “too much buying and shopping malls,” said Morrison. “I kind of liked it the way it was when I was a little boy, so we built this through the imagination of a child, all the special things — caroling, the Christmas tree, just memories of generations.”

Visitors are especially taken by the recreated Woolworth’s store — the first retail chain to sell factory-made goods at cheap prices. For more than a century, starting in the late 1800s, Woolworth’s was the place to go for Christmas decorations and toys.

“I remember going there with my mom when we were kids, and all the different toys, and the dolls,” reminisces Judy Smith from nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Bob Berkowski found some metal bells his grandmother used to hang on her tree every year.

“They bring back good memories,” he said.

Young at heart

The memorabilia also brought back the past for Maryann and Walter Smith, a married couple from New York.

“See that little dish with the little handle?” said Maryann, pointing at a round, clear glass bowl. "I used to buy that for my mother for Christmas at Woolworth's.”

Her husband Walter sees silver tinsel in a cardboard box. It reminded him that even though his family “was kind of poor,” his father would manage to buy a Christmas tree.

“My father would get the skinniest tree that he could find. By putting the tinsel strands down between the skimpy branches it sort of filled out the tree.’

The young — or young at heart — can stroll through the whimsical TudorTowne, based on a book about an old English village, where the animals get into the Christmas spirit. And the impressive Toyland Train Mountain, featuring electric trains traveling through villages and towns, is reminiscent of smaller versions often placed under the Christmas tree.

“I really want visitors to remember the real meaning Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ,” said Morrison.

The museum has a large collection of striking nativity scenes, some life-sized, others small enough to hold in your hand. They come from many places including Italy, China, Estonia, and Russia, as well as several countries in Africa.

For older visitors, the center’s memorabilia takes them back to being a kid again. And for kids, it’s a look at the joy of Christmas before they were born.

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