Safety Harbor man's Christmas Village collection makes for family tradition all year round
SAFETY HARBOR, Fla. - In the rectangular room of a Safety Harbor man's home, one could say it's Christmas all year long. He's spent years building up his holiday assortment.
"I counted. There's 53, 54 different buildings, but there's well over a thousand pieces," Thomas Zander, the homeowner, said.
The buildings he's referring to are part of his collection of "The Original Snow Village" pieces. The ceramic pieces are made by a company called Department 56 and began in 1976. Many of the buildings light up.
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Zander describes his collection as "The theme of Christmas is small town, where the town is decorated to the hilt."
His village consists of the small-town cornerstones: Homes, shops, diners, a police station, a library, a childhood favorite and a White Castle. Zander started collecting in 1985, when he and his wife bought a church to join a train under their Christmas tree at their Wisconsin home.
Why did he keep growing his collection? His answer is simple – His kids.
"As a child, my folks, they made Christmas so special, and I kind of wanted to do that for my children and grandchildren," Zander said. "The best memory is when my grandchildren were three to four years old. I had a loft in my house and I would look down, and I'd see, I have 12 grandchildren, I would see six, seven little tiny children, you know, three, four or five years old, just laying on the floor, looking at it in, you know, the joy on their face of seeing it. It just it made it all worthwhile."
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While the collection has remained out for years, it was not an active collection for a couple of them.
"My wife and I did it together. I lost her almost five years ago, and I miss her terribly," Zander said.
After that loss, Zander didn't turn on the lights for two years, but a coincidence changed his mind. He met a woman named Shelley.
One of his last snow village purchases: Shelley's Diner.
"I brought her here, and she liked it a lot," Zander said. "We spent a month cleaning it and re-doing it."
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Now, the collection brings Zander joy from the present and the past.
"Every time I come out here and look at this, I think of all the things and all the times that we went out and shopped for these pieces together. It brings me a lot of happiness," Zander said.
As for the future, it all goes back to kids.
"I have a grandson that has shown some real interest in it." Zander said. "I would love nothing better than for him to take it all and display it for his children. That would be a real joy to me."
Zander said there is no storing the Christmas Village – he continues to keep it up all year round.