Antoinette Stockenberg's 2009 Christmas Display

Merry Christmas(6K)

Because of time constraints this year, I have only one mantel village, though I wish I could have the joy of two. It was hard to leave well-loved houses and tin figures in their storage boxes; this should be their season to come alive. But in the meantime, here are fourteen of my very favorite Japanese cardboard houses, along with newcomers to the cast of tin characters that people them. All of the houses and many of the flat figures -- German Zinnfiguren -- are vintage, from around 1930, as are most of that forest of bottlebrush trees. No Hawthorne, Lemax, or Dept. 56 houses in this putz -- just an assortment of sweet, dusty, slightly tattered cardboard structures that have somehow managed to survive three quarters of a century without getting crushed and tossed.

A Parade in the Village
The 2009 Christmas mantel.
   For closeups, click on the church and each of the thirteen houses.

Antique Christmas cardboard house putz (village) on fireplace mantel at night (50K)

For a widescreen version of this mantel village, click here.

The City Hall and Town Square Scene (Houses. 5, 6, and 7)

Animated City(8K) The little village is having its first Christmas parade. As in any small town, there are probably more people and kids in the parade than at the parade, but that's what it's all about -- the chance for everyone to be a star, if only for a little while. There's lots of excitement and just plain joy here, especially among the children. Presents and candy will also be part of the day's treats; it's almost more than the children can bear. A perfect day, and it's not even Christmas yet!

The parade was the mayor's idea. Mayor Albert Pittman is young and ambitious and recently married to Lavinia Von Struss, daughter of Peter Von Struss, the richest man in town and a person of vast property. The mayor has used his father-in-law's connections to invite two different bands, complete in their historical costume, from abroad. Mayor Pittman is immensely proud of that; it gives his town a cosmopolitan air that he feels has been missing.

Immediately after the parade, the mayor and his wife will be hosting a soiree in their brand-new mansion at the edge of town. Dashing in his red-satin-lined cape, the mayor waits with a guest in the town square for his carriage, leading the parade, to arrive. His haughty spouse is the parade's Grand Marshal (she ought to be; it's her dowry that's paid for the festivities). In her ermine-trimmed fare from Paris, Lavinia Pittman embodies the very height of fashion. Every accessory, every button is scrutinized by the women, both young and old, who watch her pass by.

Mayor Pittman is actually more focussed on his latest acquisition: the splendid dappled gray mare prancing smartly before its gleaming carriage. "A very nice bit o' horseflesh," the mayor's guest admits as the carriage approaches. The mayor nods. Life, he decides, is going quite well.

Animated Skater(12K) While much of the town has turned out for the parade, one young woman won't be there -- Sonja, the lovely figure skater who had been so looking forward to watching the festivities with Johnny Hooks, a childhood friend who once had a desperate crush on her. Sonja's in bed with a broken ankle, the result of an awful misstep on the ice. She lies with her ankle bound in plaster, listening to the music, unable to see the musicians. Wiping away a tear, she wonders what Johnny will say when he learns what has happened.

Animated Wheel(7K) Two years ago, Johnny ran away from his father's farm, went to sea, and came back a strapping, barrel-chested man bursting through his old jacket. He's not quite the same heartsick youth that he was. He has a girl in every port, and in this port, the girl is Sonja. He's late for his rendezvous with her; the parade has already begun. Tardy or not, he's charmed by the music and pauses at a fence in front of City Hall to have a look before going on to Sonja's house. Standing there, he finds his attention caught by the saucy gal with the white muff just to his left. Is she flirting with him? Her voice is louder and merrier than it need be. Hmm.

Johnny turns back to the parade and is surprised to see a convoy of sleds loaded down with children being towed by -- his father! It's the elder John Hooks, whose only thought has always been of working the farm. Work. Work. Work. And yet that same John Hooks looks almost as if he's enjoying himself. No, that's not possible, Johnny decides. The pay must be good, that's all.

Not far from Johnny sits old man MacGowan, drawing on his ever-present pipe. He's still the lightkeeper, a job that suits him well, but he's had to come into town for supplies, so while he's at it, he stops for a gam with his old pal Florrie, who's doing a brisk business selling hot cocoa. Now why didn't he think of something like that? More profit in hot cocoa than haggling over the price of Christmas trees. Next year.

Barely aware of the joyful shouts of all the children, two attorneys stand outside City Hall and discuss settling a drawn-out case. Christmas is coming, and each would like to collect his fee. Indeed. A deal is struck. The disputed land will be split down the middle. They can't be fairer than that. A pity the landowners didn't think of that on their own; they could have saved themselves some money.

animated sleds(32K) The children trailing on sleds behind Farmer Hooks's intrepid palomino care nothing of disputes; they're getting along just swell. The younger children are holding on tight, the older ones just want to go faster. In the last seat on the last sled, pretty Yolanda in her fetching white boots calls out to friends she spies in the crowd. Look at me! Look at me!

And then there's Samuel Rickens. He's had a rough time of it lately, what with having a weakness for drink and all. He needs to work so that he can make some money so that he can purchase some spirits. And if the work involves sweeping after horses in a parade so that the band members aren't, well, distracted from their playing, then that's what he's going to do. So he sweeps up the messes. But he can think of better ways to spend his time.

The Snowball Fight Scene (Houses 3 and 4)

Animated Snowman(8K) Not far from the parade's end, an inseparable bunch falls into an impromptu snowball fight. It's Mickey Sullivan's fault, really. He's the one who pitched the first one and then hid behind a tree. No one knows who did it, and no one even cares; any excuse for a snowball fight. Jeffrey and Jimmy are doing their best to steal the carrot nose from the giant snowman, because they could use it for one they want to make after the parade. So far, no joy there. "That snowman is a monster," Jeffrey says, awed. "We're gonna need a chair." Big Billy, hanging back, still isn't part of the gang. He kind of wishes someone would throw a snowball just once at him ... but he's mostly ignored, because he's Mickey Sullivan's cousin and there would be heck to pay if anyone picked on him.

The Marching Bands Scene (Houses 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12)

Animated Marcher(8K) A military band! No one has ever seen one before, and everyone's impressed by the fancy uniforms, the band's precision, and the stirring march they're playing. It just makes you want to fall in step behind them, the children watching from the bench agree. Left, right, left, right!

The men marching behind the military band are more like a choir, those same children observe. Just kind of walking, not really marching. But at least the young benchsitters know the words to the carol the men are singing: God rest ye merry gentlemen ....

What the children on the bench cannot yet see is the next and most exciting band of all -- snowmen! Playing instruments! Even the woman leaving her house with a basket of food for an ailing neighbor is taken in by the cleverness of their costumes. They look so real, and certainly their instruments are. What a jolly group. It brings a smile to her face and eases her concern for her good friend and neighbor, if only for a moment.

But as for Miss Bates -- now Mrs. Jack Jones -- she's a bit uncomfortable at the sight of the costumed band, and she prefers to avert her gaze. Rusty doesn't understand the snowmen either, and barks suspiciously. It's not until Mr. Jack Jones catches up with them that they relax and feel at ease. It must be all right if Jack Jones doesn't mind.

Santa and his Reindeer Scene (Houses 12, 13, and 14)

Animated Santa(8K) At last, at last, the whole point of the parade: Santa himself -- Santa Claus himself! -- walks behind a gift-laden sled pulled by eight well-trained reindeer (and one young red-nosed one, more or less keeping his place in front of them). Oh, when they arrive at City Hall and the presents are passed out -- oh, what joy there will be. Everyone knows that the best place to see the parade is at City Hall where the presents will be, but a couple who have become engaged that very hour isn't paying much attention to that strategy. Clyde has just slipped a ring on Margaret's finger, and as they admire it in the light of the porch of her parents' house, they hear a deep-bellied Ho, ho, ho! And Margaret, giddy with happiness, realizes she will always and forever believe in the magic of Christmas.

At the next house down, Mrs. Pettifore is holding the hand of her cherished little girl. The two stand all by themselves, except for the maid, in front of Mr. Pettifore's house. (Mr. Pettifore, an attorney, has business at City Hall and has not been able to make it home in time to watch the parade with them.) Mrs. Pettifore could have taken Eloise to join the other children at City Hall -- what could be easier than to meet her husband after his business was done? -- but it would be noisy there and crowded and, really, not the thing for Eloise. And besides, Mrs. Pettifore has a surprise early present, a beautiful doll with flaxen hair, waiting inside the house for her daughter. A much finer present than the token ones that will be given out at City Hall to the children gathered there. No, this is much the preferred way to view a parade, Mrs. Pettifore feels certain; apart and safe.

Poor Eloise.

The Church Scene (Church and House 1 and 2)

Animated Stars(8K) Not everyone in the village is devoted to the parade. Will Jenkins has spent the day quietly hauling kings, a shepherd, a donkey, a mother, a father, a babe and a manger out of the barn behind Father Andrew's church. Since the death of his beloved Laura from influenza, Will has been quietly putting the shattered pieces of his life together again. It's not that he's forgotten Laura -- he has grieved a long time, and there's a well-worn path to her grave to prove it -- but even the most broken heart has the capacity to mend, should the spirit be willing.

And Will has that spirit. He's young and strong and filled with a desire to make a difference. He has begun, in his spare hours, to use his considerable skills as a handiman to help the poor in need. Whether the need is to have a leaky roof repaired or a broken gate fixed or a chimney repointed -- Will's the man to get it done. Word has quietly spread of his kindness, and among the poor, affection for him runs deep.

Father Andrew, too, has developed real respect for the soft-spoken handiman. In the early weeks after Laura's death, the priest was able give some comfort and counsel to him, and eventually Will became a grateful and regular visitor. Almost all churches are poor, and almost all churches need repair. Thankfully, the daunting to-do list that Will originally compiled has grown shorter by the week. But today the repairs are on hold. It's time to recreate the event for which the season came into being.

Will has carefully arranged the statues (with Father Andrew's very opinionated help) and is about to place the last figure, a sheep, alongside its young shepherd when Harmony Anderson appears. Will turns instantly from a quietly confident handiman into a statue himself. He doesn't even know to put the sheep down, but continues to hold it awkwardly in his arms. (It's a very heavy sheep.) He and Harmony have run into one another at various teas and socials and have discovered that they share the saddest of common interests: the loss of a loved one.

Animated House(8K) Their conversations have always been long and easy, but lately Will's thoughts increasingly have turned to her at night, especially when he sits in front of the fire in his modest home and wonders what might have been ... and what might still be. It has seemed to him -- but what does he know? -- that Harmony's smiles are warmer and more frequent. Right now she looks radiant, or has he simply never noticed it before? The result of Will's inner turmoil is clear: he is hopelessly tongue-tied.

Father Andrew watches the two from the steps of his little church and smiles. He has seen it all before.

For earlier chapters of this Christmas tale, click on the links to previous mantels:

2021 Christmas Putz

Xmas candle(1522K)

2020 Christmas Putz

2019 Christmas Putz

2018 Christmas Putz

2017 Christmas Putz

2016 Christmas Putz

2015 Christmas Putz

2014 Christmas Putz

2013 Christmas Putz

2012 Christmas Putz

2011 Christmas Putz

2010 Christmas Putz

2008 Christmas Putz

2007 Christmas Putz

2006 Christmas Putz

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