Christmas to the Max

By Claudia O’Brien • Photos By Steve Floethe

Everywhere you look — around every corner and tucked into every nook — there’s another wonderful surprise. Christmas trees of every shape and ilk — from tiny to not so tiny — are nestled everywhere. The larger ones begin at floor level. The smaller ones sit on tables and chests and bookcases and on kitchen sideboards and bathroom counters.

And even as you’re turning another corner, knowing that you’re likely to encounter still another tree, the latest never fails to offer an unexpected pleasure. For each tree has its own theme and tells its own story. There’s a Mardi Gras tree, dripping with parade beads, with masks and feathers tucked into its branches. And a circus tree with miniature big top animals. And a Santa tree. And a fruit tree. And a nutcracker tree. And many, many others — 30 at last count.

Maribeth says it all started nine years ago when it came time to decorate for the holidays in the spacious northeast Ocala home she and her fiancé, Bill Lewis, share.

“The ceilings in this room are so high — 22 ft. — it seemed to need a very large tree to work in the space,” remembers Maribeth. They chose a freshly cut, 15-ft. pine.

Then, to complement the towering tree with its thousands of lights and ornaments, she added wreaths and garlands, and a thousand more lights, which spilled merrily over into other rooms.

The next year, Maribeth created three new trees, ones that could be packed away and enjoyed Christmas after Christmas. Inspired by her extensive frog collection, she created a frog tree. And a snowman tree. And a hot pepper tree, on a kitchen wall.

The following year, in the master suite, she added twin, synchronized rotating trees decorated in pink, white, and crystal. Then came the bear tree and the cardinal tree and the Candy Land tree, one of her favorites.

“Family is so important to me,” says Maribeth. “I do all this, not just for myself, but for my whole family.”

She and her five brothers and sisters grew up in a comfortable home in the Chicago suburbs, where Christmas was always a joyous holiday.

She looks lovingly at a chipped china lamb from her late mother’s nativity set and the painted sleigh that always held candy canes on a table in her childhood home. And a Santa, whose white fur has yellowed now with age, that will always be a part of her holiday decorations.

Each year, MariBeth has started decorating the trees around November 1 and found it took two or three weeks to complete them, working on weekends and occasional stolen lunch hours.

This year, however, it was a little different. In June, she and a business partner started a new enterprise, which offers her more scheduling flexibility. “This year, I finished the trees in a week.”

That’s a good thing, because her Christmas company was arriving very early.

MariBeth explains that since her mother’s death eight years ago, the entire family gets together every year. This time, instead of coming for Christmas, her large family arrived shortly before Thanksgiving.

“My dad, who lives in Ocala, doesn’t travel anymore,” she says. “So we decided everyone would come here. We held a combination celebration — Thanksgiving and Dad’s 85th birthday.”

Since nieces and nephews usually get to enjoy all the seasonal decorations when they visit during the Christmas holidays, she wanted everything to be in place before they arrived for the reunion.

“They were really looking forward to having another teddy bear tea party by the Candy Land tree.”

After her family celebrations, Maribeth began holding the many parties the couple has each year for friends and business colleagues.

“I love to be able to share everything,” she says. “This is my favorite time of all.”

In recent years, Maribeth has added an M&M tree and a Victorian tree. And a S’mores tree and a lightbulb ornament tree. And a retro tinsel tree. And a special fishing tree for Bill, who is an avid angler. Actually, the single fishing tree has become two side-by-side-cleverly-tied-together trees to accommodate all of Maribeth’s themed decorations. She says a future tree will have a hunting theme — Bill is an avid hunter, as well.

For a tree idea to become a reality, however, Maribeth has to have enough themed embellishments to create it. That’s sometimes harder than it sounds. Although she is brimming with ideas for new trees, she isn’t always able to find the decorations she needs to carry them out.

Part of the fun, of course, is in the search.

“I shop for ornaments wherever I go,” Maribeth explains, “I’ve never gone into a Christmas store without buying something!”

The good news is there’s still plenty of room in the 4,400 sq. ft. house. She now adds at least one new tree every year, and moves some of the existing trees up in size because she has found more decorations to add to them.

“It’s kind of gotten out of control,” teases Bill, who says he doesn’t get involved in the decorations very much. He does help pick out the large traditional live tree that goes up after Thanksgiving. “And I put the star on the top,” he says.

The next tree?

“Probably NASCAR,” she answers. “I’m a big NASCAR fan, so I already have a good beginning.”

Considering all the love and effort she puts into decorating, do the trees stay up until Easter?

“No,” she smiles. “The live tree comes down when it begins turning brown, usually right after New Year’s. The other trees may stay up for awhile, but they’ll all be down by the end of January, or by Valentine’s Day. Probably.”

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