From ethnic nativity scenes to hundreds of vintage ornaments, Christmas decorating evokes joy for Sabins | Park Rapids Enterprise

2021-12-24 07:46:28 By : Mr. Albert Ho

If it weren’t on the banks of the Crow Wing River, you might think you had entered Santa Claus’ house.

Ardys and Dan Sabin's home near Sebeka is filled with treasured Christmas decorations. Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

This home glistens with twinkling lights. Nativity scenes from around the world are tucked in special corners. Garland, candles and poinsettias festoon almost every room. Each of the dozen-plus Christmas trees are uniquely decorated. Delicious treats on festive dinnerware greet visitors.

The Sabins enjoyed entertaining before COVID. Ardys has a beautiful collection of Christmas china and a tea set.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

This is the meaningful handiwork of Ardys and Dan Sabin.

Ardys and Dan SabinShannon Geisen/Enterprise

Originally from Blue Earth, the high school sweethearts have been married for 53 years. The Sabins have spent 22 years on their 19-acre property near Sebeka.

“My deep passions are gardening and decorating, tea parties and entertaining,” Ardys said.

Normally, she tends to her vast vegetable and flower gardens, plus their orchard, during the summer.

But this year, the Sabins spent 11 weeks with their son, Aaron, in Vancouver through different aspects of his cancer treatment.

The drought took a terrible toll on her flowers.

“It was disappointing. Everybody is COVID-weary. On top of that we have our youngest son with a cancer diagnosis, so it’s been a really rough year,” she said. “I really needed the joy of decorating this year. For me, it’s about doing what brings you the most joy.”

Ardys hates to wrap Christmas presents, but she loves to decorate for the holiday season.

One of two trees in the sunroom, these one features Northwoods-style ornaments. Rather than wrapping gifts, Ardys prefers to deliver them in quaint, reusable boxes.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

The Northwoods-themed Christmas tree holds ornaments like pine cones, reindeer and the like.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Ardys filled an antique dough box with Christmas garland.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Each Christmas decoration holds a story and a memory for Ardys.

On her Facebook page, she posted, “I really don’t have a favorite tree. Each is special in its own way, but there’s a flood of feelings as I carefully unpack and hang the vintage glass ornaments for our master bedroom tree. Some have hung on every tree of ours for 53 years.”

Over 300 fragile ornaments adorn the master bedroom tree. The mercury string beads are also vintage.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

This white-flocked tree bears ornaments made during World War II. They have paper caps and string hangers. Ardys explains they couldn't be sillvered because all the metals were reserved for the war effort.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Others are heirloom items from grandparents and parents. Still others were purchased at church sales, thrift shops or antique stores. Many were given to her as gifts.

“A lot of that old stuff brings back memories of your mom and dad,” Dan pointed out.

Snowmen populate a box that once sat on her father's workbench.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Ardys’ parents, Alex and Alice Koskovich, were “the most unbelievable Christmas people you’ve ever met,” she said. At 80, her dad was still decorating their house, frequently winning local Christmas decorating contests. Her mother collected trees and bedecked every room in a different theme.

This tree belonged to Ardys' mother.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

“For me, when I talk about decorating as storytelling, it really is. It evokes so many memories for me,” Ardys said.

The wooden trunk was brought to the U.S. from Austria by Ardys' grandfather. The photograph, at left, is her grandfather and grandmother, who made the quilt. The afghan was made by Dan's grandmother. "This is really a memory trunk," Ardys said.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

“I grew up with one Christmas tree and a wreath in a window,” Dan said.

One guest bedroom is garnished like a toyland.

Dolls, toys, games of Christmases past fill this guest room, a favorite of the Sabin's grandchildren.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

“There are some wonderful stories around some vintage toys that we’ve had forever,” she said. “Then I started picking up other things, building a story for our grandkids about what Christmases long ago were like.”

Over the years, Ardys has gradually collected Santa candles.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

The Sabins emphasize that they like to provide experiences for their two sons and grandchildren. You remember experiences, not things, they agreed.

“It’s not flourish, but feeling,” Ardys said, adding that filling their home with holiday spirit is reenergizing her for the next phase of mothering.

The Sabin's living room is bright with Christmas cheer.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Nativity scenes, books and other Christmas items can be enjoyed in every nook and cranny.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Ardys calls her husband “the hero of this story.”

“I love to decorate; my husband not so much,” she explained. “You thought you were coming out to see a Christmas house, but you’re really getting a love story.”

When both of her knees went out, Dan “had to handle every single tote this year.”

“We’re talking massive numbers of totes,” Ardys said, for hundreds of vintage Christmas decor, books, toys, cards, angels, Santas, village scenes, plus more than a dozen Christmas trees of various sizes.

Ardys crafted this arrangement out of discounted Christmas picks and garland.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Dan put up all of the trees and strung lights.

“He did yeoman’s work,” she said. “There wasn’t an ounce of satisfaction and joy in all the effort he put in. It was done with love and more patience than I deserved.”

The shelves in the Sabin's office are lined with Christmas cheer of every kind. "The buffalo plaid was really done with my husband in mind," said Ardys.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

One of several snowy villages in the Sabin home. Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Last year, roles were totally reversed.

In the winter of 2020, Ardys edited a book written by Dan about what he describes as an adventuresome, Huckleberry Finn childhood. Ardys admits she didn’t relish the time-consuming process. It was self-published and given as Christmas gifts to their grandchildren.

“Yesterday, I told him, ‘You paid me back 10-fold!’” Ardys said.

"This is my horrible, terrible, no-good tree," Ardys said. It was lop-sided when they bought it. It's laden with 1960s plastic ornaments and tinsel.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Simple, yet elegant Christmas touches give warmth to this guest bedroom.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Ardys was director of Christian education for a number of United Methodist churches in the Twin Cities area.

Her collection of crèches – the French word for nativity scenes – evolved from her ministry.

She taught about Christmas around the world and began collecting ethnic crèches. She owns some from China, Africa and Indonesia.

Ardys' collection of crèches, or nativity scenes, from around the world evolved from her ministry.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

This hand-carved figure of Mary is from Kenya.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Her collection of Christmas books also emerged from her teaching.

She purchased discounted Christmas items while working at Dayton’s for two winters.

“A lot of stuff didn’t make it to the shelves,” Dan joked.

After moving to northern Minnesota, Ardys turned to a combination of dumpster diving and bargain shopping.

“Starting in November, when we go to town, we have to stop at Bearly Used and Tin Ceiling,” Dan said.

“And Salvage Depot,” Ardys added.

Ardys' office boasts an aluminum Christmas tree dating from the 1960s. "My husband hates it, I absolutely love it," she said, laughing.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Even the anonymous ornaments hold mystery for her. When she holds fragile ornaments dating from World War II, she said, “I’m wondering who put this on their tree? Were their children off to war? Was their husband overseas?”

Each room centers around a theme, like family, Santas, Alaska, the Northwoods.

The narrow crystals dangling on this tree are from an old hotel chandelier. The star-shaped crystal ornaments are from the Swarovski collection. The famous manufacturer creates a new one each year.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

“It sounds corny to say that it’s a spiritual connection for me, and yet it really is. I don’t want to say that and detract from the meaning of Christmas and the depth of our personal faith experience because that’s very much there, but there’s something about the act of decorating and storytelling and moving into my place of bliss. That’s why I do it – for the joy,” she said.