Mike and Bobbie Voris like to play a game with their holiday guests: Count the Santas.
While they’re at it, they can total up the forest of Christmas trees, ranging in height from 2 inches to 15 feet, in their three-story townhouse next to the Sacramento River. Take a census of the angels (don’t forget the heavenly choir singing in the shower). Tally the snowmen (including those hiding in bookcases). And no fair just guessing.
“I really want people to look,” Mike Voris said. “By counting, they have to go look all over the house.”
Because just about everything is decorated with some sort of festive character, pulled out just for Christmas.
The couple cover every shelf, wall and tabletop with something seasonal. The “usual” books, knickknacks and collectibles are packed away to make room for their mammoth collection of Christmas cheer.
“I have to rent a 10-by-20(-foot) storage unit to store it all,” Mike said. “We ran out of room in the garage a long time ago.”
Due to health issues, Christmas “almost didn’t happen this year,” Bobbie said. Both in their late 60s, the couple needed help to hoist their wreaths and garlands, arrange their armies of elves and scale their oversized evergreens.
They found it with some real-life Visiting Angels.
“They’re the reason we got to decorate this year,” Bobbie said. “No one else was available to help. We were in a panic.”
She was referring to Dale and Alyce Glazer, who own the Sacramento franchise of Visiting Angels home care, a service that specializes in helping seniors stay in their homes and live independently.
“This was the most exciting and interesting job for us,” Dale Glazer said. “We’ve never had a request like this before.”
“Most of what we do can be kind of sad,” Alyce Glazer said. “Often, people are sick or at the end of their days. But we just fell in love with this family. For us, it really ushered in the holiday season.”
It took four helpers an entire week to get that legion of Santas snug on their shelves. Following Mike’s detailed direction, each figurine was placed with care. Working as a team, they hung more than 2,000 glass ornaments on the main 15-foot-tall tree.
“We work from the trunk out and top down,” Mike explained. “We have to decorate the top of the tree from the third-floor landing. We also work from the bottom up, so we meet in the middle. There’s a sheet of plywood under the tree, so we can turn it as we go.”
I keep saying I could stop at any time, but I’m having too much fun.
Mike Voris, Christmas collector
Every room has at least one fully decorated tree, but the Vorises’ indoor forest also features dozens of miniature 1940s faux firs stuck into display cases and scattered among the snowmen, elves and angels who seem to pop up everywhere.
“The dozen angels in the shower kind of make me blush,” Mike said with a laugh.
A retired Aerojet engineer, Mike got hooked on Christmas as a child and never outgrew his fascination with the “happiest time of the year.”
“Seriously, my parents always made a big deal at Christmas,” Mike said. “I always loved it as a kid and I just never outgrew that feeling.”
“My husband is a Christmas-holic, ” said Bobbie. “I just support his habit.”
Shared with family and friends, their amazing Christmas display started with their first Noel as newlyweds 45 years ago. Mike was in the Navy, and the young California couple was stationed in Bremerton, Wash. College sweethearts at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, the Vorises were a long ways from home.
“We didn’t have two nickels to rub together,” Mike recalled, “but we still had a tree.”
They scavenged for decorations at a thrift store and lovingly turned their little tree into a very happy Christmas memory, the first of many. They celebrated by hosting a Christmas party, which became an annual affair.
“We’ve had a Christmas party every year since that first,” Bobbie said. “We always invite a lot of people over for the holidays to see the decorations.”
“Every year, we’d put up a little more and a little more,” Mike said. “I keep saying I could stop at any time, but I’m having too much fun.”
Their treasure hunt for new ornaments and decorations became part of every vacation.
“We have lots of souvenirs from trips,” said Bobbie, as she pointed out tropical-themed ornaments from Aruba, Hawaii and other destinations.
Before his retirement, Mike traveled regularly to Russia on business. Each time, he brought back more handmade Santas, elegantly carved and painted. They joined a United Nations of St. Nicks, hailing from around the globe.
Now, Santas from many countries crowd around his office desk. They also smile from all corners of the kitchen and wink from the wine cellar’s hidden door. They congregate in the powder room and perch on high ledges. (And for those keeping count, the Santas now number way more than 300.)
“I like to group things together,” Mike said. “When you have two or three, it doesn’t do anything. But when you have a whole bunch of them together, it makes an impact. I need critical mass.”
As their Christmas collection grew, staging became more detailed.
“I like to do scenes like you used to see in Macy’s windows,” Bobbie said.
Often, these vignettes have elements of humor. A large tribute (complete with life-size leg lamp) is devoted to “A Christmas Story,” the 1983 movie centered on 9-year-old Ralphie’s deep desire for a BB gun. In the downstairs bathroom, “Santa’s Fishing Lodge” features a reindeer head hanging from a wall.
“That may not be politically correct for Santa,” Bobbie observed.
“If you can’t have a little fun, what the heck?” added Mike. “It’s Christmas!”