Can't get enough of Christmas Yuletide: Joyce Muller goes a little crazy for this holiday. She has the trees to prove it.

December 20, 1997|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,SUN STAFF

Joyce Muller is walking down Westminster's Main Street under heavy, leaden skies that most would find depressing. But not Muller, who is hoping for snow. Who is, in fact, dreaming of a white Christmas, where the treetops glisten, and children listen, and she somehow persuades her boss to pose with reindeer antlers on his head.

But we're getting ahead of the story.

Muller, 45, is head of public relations at Western Maryland College, the private liberal-arts school named for the railroad owned by one of its founders. She is a native of Westminster, born at a time when Westminster's babies had to go to Pennsylvania if they wished to enter the world via a hospital. She has watched its transformation from small town to Baltimore exurb, and still loves it madly.

"It's a wonderful town," she says.

And a wonderful life. Muller has been married 25 years to her high school sweetheart, Harvey, who works at the State Highway Administration. Twenty years ago, the couple built their modest dream house together, brick by brick, in what was then a spanking-new development. There, they've reared two daughters and thrown an annual Christmas Eve bash that begins with her husband's famous oyster stew and climaxes with homemade plum pudding.

The truth is, Muller is mad for holidays, all holidays, but Christmas reigns supreme. She had to take down her Halloween decorations -- an elaborate set, including a retro-looking pink bar to make way for the Christmas ones. No slave to the calendar, Muller has been known to continue decorating past Dec. 25.

"I just love this time of the year. I hate hearing other people complain about it," she says, and it should be noted that she is wearing a jeweled pin that says "I Love Christmas." Well, actually, it says "I [Christmas tree]," but that's the translation.

Let's begin our tour of Muller's Christmas wonderland at her office at the college, where she has put up eight aluminum trees. Yes, eight. She owns a dozen. As a child, she hated this style of tree and vowed to have a natural one. As an adult, she now feels nostalgic for her childhood and has been buying aluminum trees yard sales -- starting with her mother's.

Muller's husband believes she drives up the market in Christmas kitsch. A few years back, she began collecting old Christmas calendars for two or three dollars. Now she's seeing some marked as high as $30. She covets a Christmas elf she saw in a Pennsylvania antique store, but it's an exorbitant $40. As for the old St. Nicholas Illustrated books she loves to collect -- well, she knows it would cost a fortune to amass a complete set.

Other things take time, not money. Of the five Christmas trees up in her living room -- yes, five, she's being conservative this year -- one is covered with white "scissor art" cut-outs, all Muller-made. She has two shelves of snow globes and plastic Santas, displayed at child-level. Muller wants her visitors, young and old, to play with them. What's the point of a toy no one plays with?

A stack of Polaroids from last year's party sits beneath another tree. Muller persuaded everyone to wear fake antlers for at least one photograph. There's Western Maryland president Robert Chambers, looking very dapper in horns. That must come in handy when it's time to ask for a raise.

Muller remembers her first Christmas with her husband. She was still a student, and they didn't have much money, so they bought a tree that cost $2 a foot. The woman measured it against Harvey's height, judged it to be about five feet, or $10. "We really couldn't afford even that." So Muller made all the ornaments from balsa wood -- ornaments that she will bring out again this year, for the 25th year in a row. They've held up rather well.

"Next week, I'll be done," she says, surveying the living room, the five trees, the stockings hung by the chimney with care. Then she catches herself. "What am I saying? I'm never finished."

Pub Date: 12/20/97

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