Light It Up 6

Missoula couple uses hundreds of decorations to ring in Christmas

It’s Christmas Day and the neighborhood where Marv Horne lives is frozen deep within winter’s quiet. Only the occasional crack of river ice popping under the morning sun can be heard. Neighbors stay cozy inside to celebrate, but Marv balances atop his chilled ladder, trying to stay clear of pesky pine needles.

While he fiddles with a blinking red bulb, Marv hears, “Hey, Mr. Edison!” A next door neighbor’s daughter calls from across the fence. Marv glances over his shoulder, screwing in another bulb, this one green. She continues to chide.

“You nuts? You still putting stuff up on Christmas Day?” Marv chuckles, grabbing a branch to steady himself.

“That was in the early 1990s, before all these light tours,” explained Deb, Marv’s wife of 38 years. “He had every pine tree on our acreage lit up. I could see them half a mile away when I’d come home at night.”

Today, with the popularity of Christmas light tours, Marv and Deb’s field of lit pines might not stand out, but they’ve still got most decorators beat. All you have to do is walk inside their home to witness festivity at its finest.

The variety of holiday globes hanging from their ceiling is enough to make even Santa feel like a kid at Christmas. Vintage ornaments, musical toys—almost every surface is dressed with holiday treasure, and it’s natural to wonder, how many ornaments does this Missoula couple put up at Christmas?

“The first [decorations] came from my parents in Butte,” said Deb. It’s where she and Marv grew up, married, and also where collection began.

“When I was a kid, my dad worked all three shifts at the Berkeley Pit. My mom worked the night shift as a nurse. We always had a Christmas tree but not a lot of decorations. When [Marv and I] got married, I told myself, ‘I’m going to have decorations,'” said Deb.

When they moved to Missoula in 1985, Marv found work as the maintenance supervisor for Southgate Mall.

“I remember each year the whole crew—maintenance, housekeeping, office clerks, and all of their spouses—got together to put up that 35-foot tree overnight,” said Marv. He was in charge of mall decorations, inside and out, for 17 years. It seems, after all, Deb had the right husband to make her decoration dreams come true.

“He puts up the lights, I do the ornaments,” said Deb. She pointed out a dozen tiny wax Santas. She strolled around her living room, stopping at carefully constructed scenes to reminisce on each ornament’s origin. There were donations from friends, add-ons from relatives, and bargains that were found at post-Christmas sales. Her voice softened when she spotted treasures close to her heart. “These vintage bulbs are from my mom. They’re old, from the 1950s. To me, [they’re] keepsakes.”

Marv estimates 380 pieces on the ceiling alone. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, they unbox, set out, and pin up pieces from 25 storage tubs.

“I finally got a nut driver,” said Marv. “My thumbs got so sore from pushing pins in the ceiling.” Taking down is less painful and a bit faster. Still, each bauble must be repacked in its original box. After the holidays, all those tubs get stacked in the Christmas shed.

“The way he packs things, everything fits just right. I call him Mr. Mayflower,” said Deb. Their banter, like their decorations, displays all the age, comfort, and sentimentality that a lifelong marriage collects.

The Hornes have no plans to slow down. “We’ve given a bunch away, but I still go to the stores after Christmas,” Marv admitted, shaking his head. “I’m in the aisle, and I see something I like, and I think, where am I going to put it? I know one thing, for sure, I’m not replacing that lamp. I love that lamp.”

He pointed to a table lantern with half a dozen glass tulips sprouting from its brass base. Marv pulls a flashlight from his jeans pocket and points it at the lamp’s red and green glow. “We make Christmas out of that light. Then, we change bulbs for Valentine’s Day. Then, green for St. Patrick’s Day after that.”

So, how many ornaments does this Missoula couple put up just for Christmas? Marv clicked off the flashlight, hooked his thumbs in his belt, and scanned the room for a quick inventory. “Right now, I bet we have four or five hundred. I don’t know, maybe even seven or eight [hundred]. I’m going need another shed if we keep going.”