HIGHLAND | A Christmas gift of five miniature ceramic houses from his mother-in-law in 1975 inspired Tom Banas to create a small holiday village that fascinated his daughter.
“I saw how happy the houses made our oldest daughter, Jennifer. The smiles on people’s faces when people came to visit made me decide to do more,” said Banas, 67, the father of four and grandfather of four with another on the way.
Over the last 37 years, the holiday village has become very much a family effort, even a favorite project for friends.
“My wife, Pam, helped by purchasing a house every year,” he recalled. “My children encouraged me even more. They would buy some miniature characters every year for Christmas gifts. Other family members and friends also contributed.”
Today, the multilevel holiday village fills much of Tom and Pam Banas’ living room. The five original Victorian-style houses and a church with stained glass windows from Pam’s late mother, Betty Ford, can be found in the intricate display that flows along three walls.
The structure of the living room also changed to accommodate the ever-growing display.
“I was soon running out of room so we installed a bay window, which helped make more room,” said Banas, owner of Pat’s Frame & Axle in Highland.
The original table that held the village also became too small, so Banas used his carpentry skills to build several tables from 16 2-by-4’s and eight sheets of plywood. Additional raised platforms that fit along the two other walls soon followed.
He also fashioned the snow necessary for a holiday village, by carving up eight large sheets of white foam.
An avid skier and ski instructor who participated as the latter in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Banas created a ski resort complete with a chalet and a ski slope displaying a line of “student skiers” following an instructor.
Banas has enlarged his display by purchasing collections of houses, churches and other buildings from stores including the now-closed Highland Department Store, and from individuals. Some of the ceramic buildings are 35 to 50 years old, he said.
Among the well-known collections on display in the Banas home are the handpainted London-themed Dickens Collectibles, Sugar Land Village, Lenox and Department 56.
“There are a number of villages in the display,” he said.
In addition to the ski resort, the display includes a scene with hunting cabins, a barnyard, a factory area, a seashore with boats and a lighthouse, a train station scene, a downtown shopping area and an ice skating scene with villas, a skating rink and warming house.
Two Nativity scenes illustrate “the reason for the season,” Banas said.
All the buildings are lighted with 300 feet of white lights, he said.
There are 39 electrical cords connecting everything and eight circuit breakers to handle the electrical load. The entire display boasts about 60 feet of white lights and four timers keep everything working on cue, Banas said.
He begins Nov. 1 to put the display together and spends 240 to 300 hours working on what he says has become more than a hobby.
“I try to have it finished by Thanksgiving,” he said. “We have friends who visit every year and see something different.”
The outside of the Banas home on 41st Place also gets the holiday treatment with an array of Christmas figures and inflatable characters.
Just as the display inside fascinated his children, Banas said the holiday village and additional decorations have become a playground for his elementary-aged grandchildren.
“The grandkids play with the miniature figures and put them back just where they found them. They also hug the big snowman and the Christmas girl,” Banas said.