Virginia Danke has many years of practice decorating her home for the holidays. She’s lived in her South Hill bungalow her entire life – 84 years.
“I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else,” said Danke, a retired Lewis and Clark High School teacher, coach and sports official. “I’ve traveled around the world, but I’m always happy to come back here. I don’t know, it’s just that it’s a house that has a feel to relax in.”
Her favorite time of year is Christmas, and her home reflects it. The connected living and dining rooms sparkle with yuletide decorations and music. A glowing hearth reflects off the gleaming redwood ceiling beams and built-in hutch, adding a homey touch.
Danke begins her holiday decorating immediately after Thanksgiving, and the process takes at least four days. When she was a child, her family had a real Christmas tree, but now she has a straight and tall artificial one, lavishly adorned with ornaments dating from the 1920s to the present.
“I just keep adding,” she said. “I’m not too sure I better stop now.”
Her grandfather’s painted birds from Germany perch on the boughs. An old fabric doll with a wooden head swings near an antique Christmas ball encircled by a foil wreath. Under the tree stands a mouse with huge ears that Danke says has been around for as long as she can remember.
She bought most decorations during her trips abroad. A Scandinavian straw mobile with shellacked dough figures hangs from an archway. From China she brought home a three-tiered top with nativity scenes on each level. A woven Peruvian Christmas tree adorns a window.
“I’ve gotten them from all over the world,” she said. “Wherever I’ve traveled. You know, they were made in the country I was in. If I can carry them home.”
Several music boxes dot the rooms, each with a different holiday tune. A festooned train with moving wheels plays a variety of songs such as “Jingle Bell Rock” and “White Christmas.” A merry-go-round, two Christmas trees, and a rocking horse also furnish carols.
Carousel horses prance over the hearth, while a Christmas village with neighborly scenes nestles on the mantelpiece.
“I like the buildings with people in them,” she said. “I like my little old man feeding the ducks.”
Her parents also decorated the house, although on a smaller scale, since Danke grew up during the Depression. Her mother handcrafted a few pieces, including a glittery bell ornament, Santas from the pages of old Reader’s Digests and standing snow people. As children, Danke and her siblings made paper chains for the tree.
Her home truly comes alive each year in mid-December when she hosts an annual pancake breakfast. Approximately 30 of her hiking friends arrive for a brunch, followed by a six-mile walk. After the New Year festivities are over, the ornaments are wrapped separately, and after two or three days of labor everything is safely stored in a closet solely for Christmas decorations.
And which holiday item is her favorite?
“Oh, I have no idea. I don’t think I can say any one thing. I just like to decorate,” she said.