“58 trees, and that’s not counting the ones that didn’t have lights or decorations” - Patricia Thomas has a passion for holiday decorating - her 4th of July tree is just one of the 58 that decorate her home and she's happy to share her passion with others. Her story is captivating and inspiring. We took some time to chat to this amazing woman and hear her beautiful story; one that even we didn’t quite expect.
How it all started
Patricia has been an Ultimate Christmas fan for many years, her most precious decorations are safely stored in our boxes. Patricia started decorating when she and her husband bought their house in Lakeville, Minnesota. They weren’t even supposed to view that specific house while house hunting that day, but as soon as she walked into the empty house she knew it was hers. As they moved in during the Autumn of 1996 she could already envision their first Christmas.
Decorations for the first Christmas were basic but special. Patricia still remembers hanging different colored strands of fairy lights (before multi-colored lights were readily available) so she could change the colors of the tree each night and as she playfully puts it, “keep the neighbors guessing”.
It quickly grew from there, and the next few years saw each room with its own tree and eventually Patricia was decorating for every holiday.
Getting into the holiday spirit early
When I mentioned to Patricia an article I had recently read about a scientific study showing that people who decorate early for the holidays are happier, she laughingly agreed, “I truly think so! I'm happier when my house is decorated. Even my bathroom is decorated for the holidays! It always puts a smile on my face!”
When Patricia started decorating for other holidays, it kind of progressed naturally; she would start in September decorating the upstairs area for Christmas, while downstairs Halloween would slowly come alive. After Halloween, she would start decorating for Thanksgiving in the living room while the guest rooms would get Christmas decor. After Thanksgiving, Christmas decorations took center stage.
With the display in full force, Patricia would often get friends and sometimes even friends of friends coming to view her fantastically decorated home until mid January. She didn't mind and still doesn't, she loves sharing her passion with others.
Patricia keeps her Christmas decor till mid January when they get put away to make way for Mardi Gras, Valentines Day, and Easter.
The first 4th of July tree
The first time she decorated a patriotic tree was in 2001, right after Sept 11. “I was right after the terrorist bombings. It was only a Christmas tree decorated with red, white, and blue ornaments and bulbs, but it was my way to show the love I have for my country”.
“I felt sad and angry that another country could attack us. It totally changed how we felt as Americans and how we were now vulnerable in a way we had never been before. But I felt proud of how we all pulled together and grateful for the love and support we received from other countries.”
While hearing Patricia’s story, we couldn't help but wonder how many other trees had gone up that year in a simple but powerful show of support.
Patricia’s love for her country had played an important role in her life decisions early on, “I have always loved studying American history and government and my undergraduate degree is in American Studies with minors in American History and Political Science” and to her the 4th of July is “an excellent time to reflect on what it means to be a U.S. citizen.”
It's also evident in the love she shared with her late husband; “Ken and I have been in all 48 of the contiguous states. We only had to visit Hawaii and Alaska to have been in all 50 states. We loved to drive and that was our preferred mode of travel. We have driven from one end of the country to the other. We loved the freedom of changing our itinerary if something looked interesting or unusual. We have been in every Civil War battlefield national park (I loved studying about Colonial America, the Revolutionary Period, and the Civil War) and we explored so much of the history of our country.” Together they were a formidable team and proudly American.
Her favorite 4th of July decorations
When I asked Patricia about her favorite patriotic ornaments and figures, she couldn't really decide: “I love all my decorations, but there are a few that I like more. One is a patriotic Uncle Sam, vintage style.”
She also has an impressive 15 years old Patriotic Snoopy Collection, “I love the them. The Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For several years, we had local artists create different Peanuts characters which were sponsored by local businesses. Then, the huge characters were made into small figures which were sold. I purchased all the patriotic ones for my 4th of July collection.”
Other honorable mentions would be her hat topper, a patriotic quilt (proud Cracker Barrel find), and her "Christmas in July" sign.
Loss and love - tree decorating for the Soul
In 2006, Patricia's life was turned upside down when her husband passed away suddenly from pneumonia. Even though it was hard, their love lives on and even after 13 years, you can still hear the love in her voice when she speaks of him. Shortly before his death, Patricia and her husband had bought a Montessori School together, as all their children lived far away and they had love to spare.
“It is not painful to talk about Ken. It brings a smile to my face to remember all the fun times we had. I still miss him dreadfully, but we had a good life together, and the last two months of his life, right after we bought the school were the best of our marriage. It's interesting because we were together basically 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. He was so happy, having his own business.”
Decorating for the holidays wasn't really something her husband was interested in, but he did help her when she asked and often found ways to tease her, “I do all the decorating by myself and have rarely had any help, even when Ken was alive. One time I asked him to string the lights on my 8 ft tree. Instead of wrapping the lights around as usual, he decided to run them up and down the tree! I couldn't believe it when I saw it. He was just teasing me to get a reaction, and he did! We used to laugh about it.”
There is a little bit of their life story hanging on the 4th of July tree each year, as Ken often helped Patricia pick decorations. They were the type of couple that didn't bring back fridge magnets from their travels, but rather ornaments and decorations.
In the end decorating became more than just a passionate hobby, it helped her deal with the grief and brought joy to her home. Her special memory tree holds all the momentos that have made up their life together and it keeps his memory alive.
Celebrating the 4th of July
Today, Patricia is 73 years old. She only retired last year, and even though she finds it more and more difficult to decorate, she still tries to do as much as she can for the holidays. She loves celebrating the 4th of July with family when they are able to visit and when on her own, she enjoys curling up to a good movie or book, “I love to watch patriotic videos. I have several about the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers, and it is good to remember our history and what our country stands for. I am an avid reader, and I just finished reading Madison's Gift by David O. Stewart and am now reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.”
“When the girls were younger, we would have family picnics, watch the parades, and then go to the local park to watch the fireworks. We sometimes went to the outdoor concert by the state capital, and often the Minnesota Orchestra would play there before the fireworks display. It is fun to be with lots of other people to celebrate this holiday.”
Scaling down - when it's time to hang up the tinsel for good
These days the ornaments and decorations seem to spend a bit more time snug in their Ultimate Christmas Storage boxes, as Patricia is getting older and it's harder to decorate as she used to. “I keep all my special ornaments in the UCS boxes. I have the 4th of July/patriotic Christmas ornaments in the patriotic boxes, and the Halloween decorations in the Halloween boxes. Valentine's decorations are in the red boxes, and St. Patrick's Day decorations are in the green boxes. I have 33 in total!”
She doesn't know if her children will take her decorations the day she really decides to scale down, but she teasingly admits she has no doubt they will take her Ultimate Christmas Storage boxes.