Decorating history

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, November 27, 2010

Early visitors tour the atrium of the Hormel Historic Home on the opening day of the home’s annual Christmas open house. - Eric Johnson/

On the surface, last weekend’s Christmas Tree open house at the Hormel Historic Home was simply a tradition of lights, trees, and colors, even turning the home back in time in some instances to when the Hormel family celebrated the holidays.

Like all events of this nature, it takes on more of a meaning than that. Sixteen rooms worth of decorations requires a lot of forethought.

“In the summer — June, July, August — we start booking vendors,” executive director Laura Helle said. “They come in, measure, take pictures.”

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As vendors begin preliminary work, they come back in October for a dinner where vendors come together in more of a social capacity. They then come in the Wednesday and Thursday before the open house for the actual decoration.

That, of course, is a simplified telling of what takes each vender plenty of time and effort to complete, which is reflected in the final project.

A Nativity scene graced a table upstairs in the Hormel Historic Home. - Eric Johnson/

Vendors, however, don’t just come in and start decorating. There are plenty of challenges the house itself gives each vender which is why they and their ideas are matched fairly precisely to each room.

“It’s a little bit of a custom fit,” Helle said. “Like Jay’s bedroom is decorated for a child. Not everybody fit well with that.”

The event is an instant draw. When doors opened on Friday, Nov. 19 there were already people waiting to begin the tour and just 10 minutes in there were people seemingly in every room of the house, enjoying the festive decorations.

Last year there were around 700 visitors to the home while this year 466 made the rounds through the various rooms.

A majority of the decorations are handled by vendors in the floral and home decor professions and each set-up reflects that, however, vendors like the Blue Belle Inn, a bed and breakfast located in St. Ansgar, Iowa also had a room this year.

The arrangements also have the advantage of creating ideas for those that take the tour.

“They talk about what they’re going to do in their own rooms,” Helle said.

The timing of the event, the weekend before Thanksgiving, is just about perfect.

“It’s just early enough in the season, it gets them in the mood,” Helle said.

The transformation of the rooms even has an affect on Helle.

“I see the same rooms 12 months a year,” she said. “The vendors come in, rearrange and it’s a whole new room.”

If the event does nothing else, in the end, it reflects the Christmas spirit and that is evident in every circumstance, even last year when the United States was suffering through the grips of recession.

“I thought it was really cool last year, with a down economy, it was still playful and fun,” Helle said. “It was a rallying cry. We can still do Christmas. It was a fun way to respond.”