It began as a way for Sharon Carter to play with her grandchildren, but 26 years later has taken on a life of its own.
Over time, Carter’s Christmas Village has grown and now the Christmas display takes several weeks to assemble and fills up the entire porch. Carterville, as it is affectionately known, incorporates many aspects of the Carter’s family and friends’ lives and has become a holiday destination for locals.
The original Christmas village was just a few houses and some scenery. Carter used the village as a way to play with her young grandchildren.
“The children were fascinated with the village,” said Carter. “We would pretend that one of the houses was ours and I would ask the kids to find their mom. It became a great way to interact with them. They would pick one of the figures and pretend it was me or their mom.”
Each year Sharon has added pieces that depict some aspect of the family’s life. The family dogs are featured in the village, baby strollers are added for each new family member and figurines match family and friends. When one of the cousins took a tumble out of an apple tree on the 4th of July, a figure sitting in an apple tree was added for that year.
Cassie Carter, Sharon’s daughter, said, “Every new piece has a story behind it. The horse and rider were added the year my daughter took riding lessons. There is a little girl wearing a blue peacoat, much like the one my daughter had at the time. Years back, Mom got a house that looks like the neighbors and put a dog and a little girl in the yard. Each piece helps to tell our story.”
“It’s so much fun to see the kids come and look for their houses and families,” added Sharon. “When Olivia [the neighbor’s daughter] was little she would bring her friends by and point out where she and her dog were in the village. Now friends and family come to look for themselves. One of our family members has a small farm. Their kids come and look for the chickens, turkey and John Deere tractor.”
Sharon has carefully selected pieces of the village and friends and family have given her pieces as gifts.
“Each piece has special meaning,” said Cassie. “Sometimes we end up with duplicates. One year I bought a black dog like Dad’s dog only to find out that Mom had bought the same one. One time Mom saw a piece in a store 40 miles away, thought about it and turned around to go back to get it.”
Building the Carter Christmas Village has become a family project. Charles starts hanging the lights and garland in October, then porch furniture gets moved out and the tables get put up for the display.
“When everyone else in town has pumpkins for Halloween, we are starting with the Christmas lights,” said Charles Carter.
Assembling the village has become a labor of love. The setup takes about one month and is a full family project. Charles takes care of the lights and background decorations, Cassie sets up the tables and she and Sharon set up the village. Other family members assist with wiring, light check and furniture moving and get the village up and on display at the end of November.
Cassie’s friend Brenda Clements was perplexed by the amount of time the Carter family spent on setting up the village until she saw the scope of the project.
“I would ask Cassie what she was doing on the weekend,” said Clements. “Every time she would tell me she was working on the village, I kept thinking ‘How many times can she move some houses around?’, then I saw the village. Once you see Carterville, you realize something that large and detailed takes hours and hours to set up.”
“This has become a family tradition for us,” said Cassie. “Setting up Carterville is a fun way for Mom and I to have some time together.”