Seized by the holiday spirit

Decor: In Linthicum, `Mr. Christmas' offers tours of his lavishly decorated house to benefit charity.

December 20, 2004|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

For many years, there was nothing unusual about the ornaments Gilbert Granville used to trim his home for Christmas: a few strings of lights, some greens and one lone tree.

But in 1980 - in the wake of a divorce - the Linthicum resident said, the spirit of Christmas seized him. And with every subsequent holiday season, Granville found himself stringing more lights and putting up more trees.

"It kind of exploded," Granville, 68, said during a recent tour of his white clapboard home on Darlene Avenue in Anne Arundel County.

This year, Granville - a father and grandfather known locally as "Mr. Christmas" - filled his small, three-story house with 25 trees, all of them decorated with a different theme. Although they aren't real spruce trees (Granville gave those up because the needles carpeted his floors), their full, green shapes fill every room.

"I don't know where my ideas come from," said Granville, a trim, silver-haired man who has an air of Santa Claus when he chuckles - the creases of his eyes growing deep around his wire-rimmed glasses. "Somehow, they just keep coming."

And so do the visitors. Every year, Granville opens his home to the public for one weekend of evening tours. The cost is $4, and Granville donates the proceeds - which last weekend totaled more than $160 - to local charities, including the missionary program at his church, Linthicum Heights United Methodist.

This year, Granville said, the highlight was a visit from an elderly man in a wheelchair who, with help from his family, visited every room on the tour.

"As bad off as that man was, he loved every minute of it," Granville said. "Even if no one else came through, he made it all worthwhile.

Granville delights in describing the theme of each of his trees. In one room there's an "opera" tree hung with black ribbons and ceramic figurines dressed in ball gowns and suits, an "upside-down" tree that hangs from the ceiling and one decorated with ornaments made from beeswax. In another, there's a "Key West" tree festooned with plastic pink flamingoes and a tall, slender tree that turns in circles on its stand.

Granville's winter wonderland doesn't stop at trees.

In his attic, Granville created Santa's workshop - a room filled with piles of presents, "snow" made of cotton balls, an electric train and 10 trees. In the kitchen, Granville - who worked as a baker after graduating from Aberdeen High School - baked batches of gingerbread, which he sculpted into a set of four plates, silverware and teacups.

Granville's decorating has grown to such a large scale that he begins the process in August, pulling his trees out of storage and assembling each one. Then there's the trimming, the lights, the baking. ...

Even for Mr. Christmas, it's an exhausting operation.

"One year, I decided to take the season off and do absolutely nothing," Granville said. "But I can't do that again because I got all these phone calls from people asking `Are you OK?'"

Granville knows that to many people, his passion for the holiday might appear obsessive or excessive. But for Granville, who works part time as a deliveryman and who is retired from the Department of Defense, it's a pleasure.

"I do it because it's fun," he said. "I know it may be a little crazy to some people, but I enjoy it because other people enjoy it."

Longtime friends called Granville's enthusiasm genuine and unbridled.

"What he does brings pleasure and joy to all of those who come to see it," said Joyce Morrison of Linthicum, who has known Granville since 1972. "But it's also a pleasure for Gilbert - he thinks of Christmas all year long."

Growing up on a farm in Aberdeen, Granville said, his family celebrated sparse Christmases. Still, he recalls being delighted every year when - on Christmas morning - a tree appeared in the living room.

"Santa Claus put it up," Granville said with a wink. "It was a joyful thing to get up and see that tree."

These days, Granville shares the holidays with his grown son and daughter and four grandchildren - ages 2, 6, 12 and 14.

Despite the joys of being Mr. Christmas, Granville confessed that the hobby has its perils. There's the occasional vandal who slinks by in the night to knock over one of the 30 glowing candy canes that illuminate the path to his home. There also are the battles with the fuse box, which has been known to blow with one too many strings of lights. Finally, there's storage space - which Granville is lacking after two decades of collecting Christmas decorations.

"It's a big problem, because I'm running out of space in here," Granville said.

Sometime next month, Granville will begin the colossal task of taking his ornaments down, packing up his decorations and dismantling his 25 Christmas trees - duties he dislikes because they leave his house bare.

"I hate the way it looks after it's all gone," Granville said.

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