“I’m not sure you’re prepared for what you’re about to see,” said Valerie Luther, teasing over her shoulder. She cautiously opened a door and stepped from her dining room into the garage, instantly transporting her guests into a world of Christmas delight.
It all started in 2002, when Luther’s younger sister Barbara “Bobbie” Barnett relocated from Michigan to Colorado Springs. “It was around the holidays and I needed something to work on and cheer me up that first year here,” Barnett said.
The pair went to a nearby Walgreens and bought a miniature Christmas house for half price. They set it up on a card table in the dining room, along with eight very small ceramic houses Luther already owned. Over the years, their tiny village has relocated rooms and houses. It has grown and now lives year-round in the sisters’ garage off a quiet street on the southeast end of Colorado Springs. Sixty-three buildings and more than 150 miniature people perch atop tables covered in white fabric, cotton ball snow and a myriad of twinkle lights, cobblestone cutouts, and tiny telephone poles.
“We had to clean up the wiring so when everything’s turned on, it’s not a safety hazard,” Barnett said. Countless synthetic evergreen trees and plastic lampposts line the edges of the village. The seven tables of varied heights and sizes are arranged in a “U” shape, allowing visitors to peer closely into the village and eagerly discover charismatic figurines and bewitching Christmas scenes. “Children especially love it, they could just look all day.”
The sisters host an annual Christmas open house in December for their family and friends. “I love the look on people’s faces when they first see it,” Barnett said. “They always say, ‘You said it was big, but I didn’t think it was this big!’”
The sisters look on in wonderment – even after all these years – as they slowly make their ways around the village, as if they were physically strolling past the young lovers ice skating across a frozen pond or the bellboy loaded down with bags outside the Oxford Hotel. It’s easy to imagine them sitting together in one of the snow-covered gazebos across from a lit fountain in the city’s center, recounting their most treasured holiday memories. “It’s therapeutic for me, it’s magical,” Barnett said.
The entire village is intentionally laid out, complete with a firehouse, police station, and several libraries, bakeries, restaurants, hotels and churches, one of which features a wedding. A parade marches down Main Street, with the city’s mayor in the lead and Santa Claus bringing up the rear. The village was almost complete, with just one quintessential building missing: a school.
“We finally got one last Christmas,” Barnett said. “Someone gave us that one, and I painted some snow on it to make it look more authentic.” The sisters have received many of their pieces from friends and family who know about the village. The rest have been discovered in thrift stores or purchased on sale from retailers like Lowe’s Home Improvement and Michaels. The sisters feel they have enough buildings now and don’t plan to add more, but they would like to find more figurines to make the village a bustling one.
They also insist on keeping it as genuine a small, Christmas village as possible, without too many commercial or branded pieces. “That Campbell’s soup building is vintage; I’ve got papers of authenticity for it. And we’ve got four buildings that make up Cripple Creek,” Barnett said. “But I won’t put a Wal-Mart in here, that’s for sure.”