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In the spirit of the season ...

Pearl Christensen (right) is a master Christmas season decorator. She uses her skills to decorate her house, the New Richmond Heritage Center and the New Richmond United Methodist Church. A crew of volunteers, including Janet Tjelta (in background) helped complete the decorations at the Heritage Center Tuesday morning.

There is no mistaking that it's the Christmas season when you step inside Pearl Christensen's home.

Holiday decorations are visible in every nook and cranny of the main level.

"I really enjoy the holidays," Christensen said. "And decorating really gets me in the Christmas spirit."

A quick tour of the house proves the point. The laundry room has a variety of Christmas knickknacks. The living room is packed with the colors of the season. The staircase leading upstairs is adorned with greenery and lights. The back porch, which few people see, is even filled with Christmas reminders.

Christensen is the driving force behind the annual Christmas display construction.

"I just follow directions," said husband, Gwynn, of his assistance in the decorating process.

Otherwise, Pearl figures out where everything must go. It's a decorating process that lasts most of one week.

A substantial collection of Santa Claus figurines are usually placed on the fireplace mantle. A collection of snowmen also gain a highly visible spot in the home. Various painting and pictures with seasonal scenes have their regular spot on the wall. Various Christmas village buildings are scattered throughout the house.

On Monday, the Christensen's dining room table is piled high with decorations ready to be placed.

"When things come out of boxes and I'm not quite ready for them, they end up on the table," Pearl explained.

Pearl credits her mother for her unending love for all things Christmas.

"We always had a tree and it had live candles on it," she said.

Their family, which included 14 kids, never had much during the Depression years, but Pearl's mother always made Christmas extra special for everyone.

"She just really loved Christmas, and even though she didn't have much, her home was always lovely at Christmas," Pearl said. "She passed that love of Christmas on to me, but I'm not the only daughter who decorates so much."

So it was only natural that, when Pearl married in 1950, that the Christmas bug would bite there too.

"We didn't have a lot of money back then," Pearl said, "but we still wanted to make Christmas special."

It all started innocently enough, Pearl explained. She would buy one new ornament each year to add to a growing collection.

When the Christensens started having kids, Pearl would also annually buy a new ornament for each of their two daughters. It's not surprising that the Christensen's two daughters now take their holiday decorating very seriously too.

Things took off from that quiet beginning.

Pearl would find holiday items at flea markets and garage sales that she would purchase for decoration purposes. Friends and family members would also drop off things they found.

There's the painted tumbleweed that Pearl created with a Christmas theme that has been part of the family decorating scheme for 48 years. There is an impressive collection of handmade Christmas cards that were sent by a family friend in southern Wisconsin every year from 1960 to 1997. There are three strings of mini-lights (among the first ever made for Christmas decorating) still working and lighting up the front entryway.

"I have a ton of stuff," she said. "All my boxes are marked pretty well. I kind of know where everything is."

Pearl lost a couple of bows somewhere since last year, however. Nobody else would ever notice that something was missing from the display, but it obviously bugs Pearl a little.

By Monday, most of the Christensen home was fully decorated. The big Christmas tree with 500 old and new ornaments has yet to be started.

"It's early yet," Pearl said. "The very last thing I decorate is the dining room table. This year it will all be in crystal."

You'd think Pearl's enthusiasm for Christmas would remain at home, where there appears to be plenty of time and effort invested.

But Pearl, who has worked as an interior decorator for many years, also helps to decorate community spaces for the holidays.

For the past 37 years, Pearl has been the chief Christmas decorator at the New Richmond United Methodist Church. She and a team of six other women decorate one real tree and three artificial trees for parishioners to enjoy. Special wreaths and showcase displays also add to the Christmas atmosphere.

"We put on an addition at the church a few years ago and things got out of hand with the decorating," Pearl said with a laugh.

Pearl also has been in charge of decorating the Bell-Tierney Farmhouse at the New Richmond Heritage Center each year. She's been a part of that effort for about 15 years.

"I have a good group of ladies who help me with that," Pearl said. "There are about 10 of us and it's pretty much a one-day project."

The historic house is the centerpiece for the Heritage Center's holiday activities. A special Holiday Luncheon, set for 11:15 a.m. and 1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10, attracts dozens of history lovers who enjoy a meal surrounded by the sights and sounds of the holidays.

The Heritage Center also conducts two pre-Christmas flea markets in the Pavilion. This year's gatherings are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec. 6 and 13. People can buy items as gifts, and they can stop for a tour of the decorated farmhouse as well.

Pearl and her helpers were on hand Tuesday, Dec. 2, to finish this year's decoarting of three large Christmas trees at the Heritage Center. The theme for the year is "Children at Christmas."