Some people go overboard decorating the outside of their homes for Christmas. To Granville Gilbert, however, it’s what’s on the inside that matters.
The Linthicum resident, known affectionately as “Mr. Christmas” to friends and neighbors, packs his modest 1950s Cape Cod with garlands, dangling lights, gingerbread men galore and more than 20 Christmas trees, ranging in size from 2 to 7 feet tall. “It’s just something I like to do,” says Gilbert, 70, a retired research analyst for the National Security Agency. “It’s Christmas. You’re supposed to celebrate. It’s the birthday party.”
From September, when he hauls out his boxes of decorations stashed under beds and crammed into closets, until mid-January, Gilbert lives in a veritable forest of holiday cheer. Stepping into his house is like entering a department store holiday window display— over and over again. Every room boasts at least one tree and every tree has its own theme.
There’s a Mardi Gras tree full of dangling beads. Rotating trees powered by electric motors and filled with Christmas balls. An inverted tree, whose ornaments hang upside down. And a peacock tree, decorated with feathers. For the first time in years, this season he’ll add a real tree to the mix— but just one. “The mess,” he says. “I got tired of vacuuming up the needles out of the carpet.”
Gilbert has been accumulating Christmas decorations since the 1980s, when a divorce left him searching for ways to occupy his time. Since 1991 he’s been inviting the public into his home as part of holiday house tours to benefit his church or the Women’s Club of Linthicum. He transforms his attic into “Santa Land,” complete with a flock of penguins, model trains and faux snow. His son plays Santa and his grandson dresses as an elf and gives out candy. Some 400 to 500 people come yearly to gawk. “It’s funny, I get the most comments on my cross-stitch,” he says, referring to the 20 or so intricate patterns he’s framed and hung in several rooms. “I say, ‘Wait, I’ve got 24 trees here. Did you notice?’”
Gilbert, who sports glasses, a gray mustache and an easy laugh, admits his holiday decorating has become an addiction. He searches year-round for new ornaments and decorations, combing after-Christmas sales and Christmas shops in the middle of the summer. Last year, he showed up for the day-after-Christmas sale at Annapolis’ Homestead Gardens at 5 a.m.— in the rain. “I’ve got to control myself because I’m running out of storage room,” he says.
(His addictive personality spreads to jigsaw puzzles, too. In his basement, Gilbert has a separate room dedicated to a 6-by-9-foot, 16,352-piece, rain forest-themed puzzle that took him, by his calculations, 665 hours and 50 minutes over two years to assemble.)
Holiday baking is another obsession. Every year he creates some 600 gingerbread men to distribute to visitors and another 26 dozen cherry turnovers for friends and family. He sets his kitchen table with plates, saucers and cups made entirely from gingerbread. One year, he baked the “Twelve Days of Christmas” in gingerbread— 70 pieces in all— and hung them on a tree. “I’m a light sleeper, so I found myself at 2 a.m. painting aprons on the maids-a-milking.”
Gilbert won’t say what it costs him to power his elaborate displays and Christmas lights— which number well into the thousands (“It’s like driving a Ferrari. If you’re gonna drive the car, you don’t worry about the price of gas,” he quips), but he says the reaction he gets from the hordes of visitors is priceless. “The kids really love it. They say it wouldn’t be Christmas if they didn’t come to Mr. Gilbert’s house. If I make somebody smile when they’re here, then that’s worth it.”
Mr. Christmas’ house will be open to the public on Dec. 9 as part of the Linthicum Heights United Methodist Church holiday house tour (call 410-859-0990 for tickets) and on Dec. 15 and 16, as part of a public open house to benefit the church’s missions program. Tickets for that event are $4, available at the door. 404 Darlene Ave., 410-859-5195.