Every day is Christmas Day at Sherra Owen’s house. Or at least one room of it.
Above the garage of her Union County home, at the top of a narrow flight of wooden stairs, is the Christmas room. Set up like a suite, the area features living and dining areas, a small kitchen, and a bedroom with an attached bath. The tub is currently filled not with water, but stuffed animals.
Owen has decorated the space with the traditional trappings of Christmas — ornaments, stockings, a copy of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (more commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”), a collection of pottery Santas and, of course, toys, toys and more toys.
Owen, 79, describes this part of her home as a “Christmas playhouse for kids of all ages.”
“You wouldn’t believe how many adults come up here and start playing with things,” she said.
The Christmas room is full of surprises. A nondescript, antique cabinet tucked into one corner — half-buried in boxes of treasures — is filled with a tiny neighborhood, each miniature house nestled into a blanket of cottony snow. With a flick of a switch, the houses light up, making the interior of the cabinet glow like Christmas Eve.
“This has to be one of my favorites,” Owen said as she gave a tour, offering brief histories of just about every item she has. She wandered over to a large wooden wardrobe and touched one of a set of four stockings dangling from its upper lip. Each featured a traditional Christmas image — a handbell, a tree, a rocking horse, sleigh bells — stitched into its design.
She made the stockings herself, one for each member of her family, in the 1970s. Most of her Christmas treasures are handmade.
“I’ve always been a Christmas person,” she said. “I’ve always been a people person and a Christmas person.”
The holidays — Christmas especially — hold special significance for Owen. Woven among descriptions of the items in her collection were stories of treasured memories: her father reciting the Grandpa Jones classic, “The Christmas Guest”; she and others in her family using small figurines to build the creche scene during a reading of the Christmas story; and a time before the Christmas room was a Christmas room at all.
“This used to be unfinished storage above the garage,” Owen said. “I had stored in it old pieces of furniture … and then there was a pool table in the middle of all of it.”
As her family grew and the size of holiday gatherings with it, she transformed the space into an expansive craft area.
“We have a Thanksgiving tradition of making a Christmas craft after the meal,” Owen said. “When it turned into 60 guests … we now have 60 guests at Thanksgiving … I needed seating room.”
Eventually, the space was used to catch any overflow Christmas decorations. At some point, — 15 years ago or so — Owen stopped taking these decorations down.
“It just ended up being Christmas all year,” Owen said. It has ever since.
In the bedroom, above a wardrobe packed with quilts, is a gathering of doll-sized Santa Clauses. Clearly made by hand, they aren’t the least bit uniform. Some feature brown robes; others Santa’s traditional red. Most are holding a gift — a thumb-sized doll, a thimble-width clock, a wreath no larger than a quarter.
As with just about everything in the Christmas room, these Santas have a story. Owen and her sister made these by hand.
“These aren’t the good ones,” Owen said of the Santas, ending her sentence with a small laugh. “The good ones all got given away.”
In a way, the Christmas room started with these Santas. Ones like them, at least. Owen taught home economics for over three decades. As part of her class’s Christmas unit, students were required to take “junk” from home and transform it into ornaments.
That’s how these Santas came to life. They began as featureless figures, made from “junk,” and painted gold.
“And then, one day, I just started putting cloth on them, and it evolved from there,” she said.
The largest of these Santas, made by her sister, stands in one corner of the Christmas room. It is the size of a full-grown man.
Surprisingly, the one thing her Christmas room lacks is a proper Christmas tree, one with branches dipping from the weight of hundreds of ornaments.
“I’ve got a small one,” Owen said, motioning to a small tree — little more than a thin sapling — atop a table near sliding glass doors that lead out to a porch. Delicate straw-woven ornaments dangled from its thin branches.
Over the glass doors, Owen has hung a set of 12 ornaments. Each features a petit-point illustration of one gift made famous in “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
“Everything in here has character,” she said. “Just like everything I have, you take it and make something good from it.”
Because much of what Owen has displayed in her year-round Christmas room is older — vintage … antique … pick a descriptor — many of its older visitors will remember those items from their own childhoods.
That’s part of the Christmas room’s magic.
“It’s about memories,” Owen said. “Just memories … and talking about memories.”
Long ago, the Christmas room became more than just a permanent home for leftover Christmas decorations. It’s a place where Owen — or anyone who makes the trip up that narrow flight of wooden stairs — can momentarily step back in time. It’s a place filled with childhood memories. Of stories.
Stories. For Owen, that’s what Christmas … and her room dedicated to it … is all about. The story of a newborn baby in a manager … of a father reading to his family on a chilly December morning … of children eagerly unwrapping gifts.
“Family, people and stories — that’s what I love about Christmas,” Owen said inside her Christmas room. “And they’re all welcome here.”