Decorating for the holidays is a national pastime and a drive around Long Island this time of year is a brilliantly lit eyeful. But what goes on outside homes — the lights, the sleighs, the reindeer — sometimes pales compared to holiday decorating inside. It’s individualistic, often meaningful and occasionally over-the-top.
Why do people do it? “I think a lot of holiday decorating is born of nostalgia … because it recalls memories of childhood and family,” says Hadley Keller, the digital director of House Beautiful. “Plus,” she adds, “for the past few years, I think we’ve all been driven to find more joy in our surroundings at home, leading to an upped ante with holiday decorating — a phenomenon we dubbed ‘Christmaximalism.’ “
Walter Dworkin, 77, of Westbury, is a major holiday decorator himself and an expert on vintage holiday collectibles who has written a book on the subject. “Tradition is a key word,” he says. People do it, “for the enjoyment of passing on traditions from one holiday to the next. It’s an escape from our busy, hectic lives and an inviting way to share nice memories and happiness.”
Speaking of inviting and sharing, three Long Islanders welcomed us into their homes to see their takes on going a-l-l out for the holiday and told us their stories. Fa-la-la-la indeed.
The staircase at the home of Jo-Ellen and Ira Hazan is always sweeping and dramatic, but come the Christmas holiday, well, it’s nuts … as in nutcrackers. For about two decades, Jo-Ellen has been collecting nutcrackers of every variety, and size: Statues of Liberty, “Wizard of Oz” characters, a ballerina, golfers, a fisherman and even a Hanukkah nutcracker, (both for her husband — an avid fisherman who is Jewish). She says, “When I see a nutcracker, I say to myself, ‘No I don’t need one more,’ but then I get it. Nutcrackers are like a magnet for me.”
The set up: Each season, Jo-Ellen carefully unwraps her nutcrackers which have been packed away in the attic. “I’m like ‘oh yeah’ I remember this one’ and I’m glad to see them. It brings back the feeling of when my kids were little,” she says of her two adult sons. “I place them and then I sit at the bottom and look up the stairs and move them around a lot. I try to mix them up by size — a big one first, a small one next.”
Why she does it: “I’m obsessed with holiday decorating, but it’s a good obsession,” she says. When people visit, “it puts a smile on their face. They say, “Oh my God, how long has it taken you to collect these? I feel accomplished, happy and joyful.” And she explains, “My mother always said to keep tradition and have stopgaps otherwise life can just roll one day to the next. I’ve taken that to the nth level.”