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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Weekend Sun shines on Jan Mahoney

There’s no way around it. Jan Mahoney is crazy for Christmas. Born and raised in Brandon, she enjoyed the closeness and company of five siblings, two brothers and two sisters. She’s been an office assistant in the Faculty of Arts at Brandon University for 36 years. And while she avoids the over-the-top outdoor displays that seem to bring others so much joy, the inside of her home — and her workplace — is bedecked and bedazzled every year thanks to a unbridled passion for this ‘most wonderful time of the year.’

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There’s no way around it. Jan Mahoney is crazy for Christmas. Born and raised in Brandon, she enjoyed the closeness and company of five siblings, two brothers and two sisters. She’s been an office assistant in the Faculty of Arts at Brandon University for 36 years. And while she avoids the over-the-top outdoor displays that seem to bring others so much joy, the inside of her home — and her workplace — is bedecked and bedazzled every year thanks to a unbridled passion for this ‘most wonderful time of the year.’ (TIM SMITH)

So you’ve described yourself to me before as — I don’t think you used the word ‘fanatatic,’ but …

No. I’m not a fanatic. I’m a Christmas lover!

WELL then! (laughter) I know you and I are not religious people, but I LOVE Christmas, too, because I like the celebration of goodwill toward all people — I celebrate the spirit of THAT sentiment and the festivity that comes along with it. But you DECORATE!

I love to decorate!

Why?

I decorate for all seasons. I decorate for Thanksgiving — I don’t do Easter or Halloween so much — but Christmas is just my favourite time of year. Always has been.

So again, I ask, why?

Well, when you asked me to do this interview, I started thinking about why I loved it so much. And I did have a religious start. I went to Christmas Eve services — I used to go right up ’til when the kids were born when it became too hard to do two sides of the family. And my mom always had big Christmases — we always had family. We had favourite record albums — now I’m dating myself! — we put the Christmas tree up every year on Dec. 18, which is my brother, Murray’s, birthday. Traditions! It started with traditions.

Growing up, our traditions weren’t fabulous or fantastic or anything, but it was, I think, when my husband Dave and I got married — I had my own home and I just LOVED Christmas. I’ve always loved Santa.

When did this love affair with Santa begin?

Well, it happened because he’s such a magical figure. For me, it was always the magic of Christmas. And I always explain it to our daughters like that. Dave and I’ve always said, ‘Believe in the magic of Christmas.’ And for us, it was just — I mean, who could not love that jolly old elf? And the stories and the movies about Santa — all that kind of stuff. And that face that sparkles and the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ story. We read that every Christmas Eve. Now that we have grandchildren, it just has a new meaning again. We’ve never stopped reading it — every Christmas Eve, that’s one of our traditions.

Do people take turns, or …?

We just try to recite it. Somebody holds the book and we try to remember it. And of course sometimes we flounder and it gets pretty funny.

Do you each say a line, or how do you do it?

Everybody just says it together, and we have the twins, Erin and Kayla, and Kayla’s husband Steve, and our neighbours and friends George and Arlene, and we just all do our recitation of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.’ That’s always been a part of the girls’ life. So it’s just things like that.

I love Christmas music — I love the anthems, I love the hymns, I love the fun songs, and our kids grew up with all the Christmas movies — they watched ‘The Sound of Music,’ they loved the ‘Santa Clause’ movies.

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ — that is one of my favourites. ‘White Christmas’ with Bing (Crosby) — I try to watch that every year. Because I grew up with Bing. And people in our lives, like Dave’s grandmother, her Christmas tree was ALWAYS so interesting and beautiful. So we always wanted to have a special tree. And we always had special ornaments — we would buy an ornament for the girls every year. We started when we got married — I bought an ornament that year, and I bought an ornament when the girls were born, and we just had years on the ornaments every year. A lot of people do that. And then it just kind of evolved — I just started collecting things that were special and so of course you want to put them out every year.

Absolutely! Now I understand that you decorate at your office, too.

I do. I’ve worked at BU for 36 years. And I decorate the office every year.

The WHOLE office?

The whole office.

Do you have a cache of stuff that stays there, too?

Well, it comes from home. Like if I change over and don’t use something here, it goes to the office.

And I bet your co-workers love it!

I think so. I think they wait for it every year. I think they come in and see the lights and the tree. So it’s fun. I just love doing it!

This is probably a really tough question, and I think everybody might have their own definition, too. But how do YOU define the magic of Christmas?

I think it’s the warmth, the feelings, the generosity. People are nicer at this time of year. Everyone is in a good mood. There’s a Christmas carol by Elvis Presley — ‘Why Can’t Every Day Be Like Christmas?’ And that’s what it should be, right? But around Christmas, it just seems that everybody — melts. Everybody has more smiles. They’re more willing to be pleasant — they say, ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’ — whatever they prefer to say. You get together with family more, with friends more, you see people that you haven’t seen for awhile because you make that extra effort to get together and be together. And that’s always been important to us. We’ve always wanted to get the family together, and I am surrounded by people who love Christmas just like me. My girlfriends, my family, my older sister — we just are surrounded by people who love Christmas, so we kind of egg each other on in the decorating and we go shopping together, and, ‘Oh — this would look good in your house!’ So we definitely help each other out.

You just added on to your house last year. Is this the second Christmas or the first with the new addition?

It’s the second Christmas but it’s the first Christmas with it completely done. Last year we just kind of threw Christmas together. And this year, I was able to take some time and do it up right.

So did you have to go out and get more ornaments?

I did! (laughs) And bless his heart, my husband helps me with the outside and he just goes along with it and lets me have bins and bins of Christmas decorations.

What I liked, actually, when I pulled up to the house, was that you’re not into it like Clark Griswold from ‘Christmas Vacation,’ who goes absolutely nuts with the outside stuff. I have friends who do, and it’s a competition, almost. But you’re not like that. You’re just into beautifying and Christmasizing, if you will, your surroundings.

Exactly. I don’t like to go overboard. I really am a minimalist but …

Jan! Look around!

(laughs) But hopefully it’s done in a way that everybody can enjoy it. When you come in, it’s Christmas.

That’s nice! What a good way to put that! Now do you have favourite ornaments? Or do those change from year to year?

I do have stuff that has come out ever since we got married — 34 years ago. And the girls have things in the house that they go looking for to see where they are each year, or if I put it out. And I do have VERY special things that come out every year.

What are those?

Well, I have Santas that always come out. And I add new things. Last year I got my train, and I got a bigger Santa at the front door this year. It changes every year, too — where things go. The tree changes every year. And now that the house has changed, that’s changed where things go. And I do do the walkabout once in awhile and change things as I go, because, you know, ‘Oh — that would look better here, or that would look better there.’ So it’s an ongoing project.

You’re not doing this for anybody but you and your family, and you have friends and maybe they’re lucky enough to see it, or maybe not. But what does it give you a sense of? Pride? History? Tradition? Comfort, in a sense? Is that fair?

Yes, that’s very fair. Tradition, mostly. Going into the renovation I wasn’t going to put a tree up last year, but the girls insisted. ‘It’s Christmas, and you have to have a Christmas tree.’

I really envy people like you who will do this. I’m sure it probably doesn’t seem like work to you. It’s a labour of love, I’m betting.

It is. I love doing it — LOVE doing it! Love decorating.

Does it take hours and hours and hours?

Not really. By the time you get it all out and have a look through and remember from year to year what you have, then you know. I sort of start planning in my head a couple of weeks before the Christmas stuff actually comes out because it’s in the stores, right? And I’ll go shopping and see something and then you go, ‘Oh — that would look wonderful with …’ or ‘Oh — I could do this.’ Again, girlfriends and sisters come along and it’s fun! I just find it a joy. It’s not work. At all. You pull them out and you go, ‘Oh, yes — THIS Santa. There you are! Hello, Santa!’ (laughs)

For me, in many ways, it’s just a big hassle. The setting up of the tree is OK — this year I even had fun decorating it — but having to undecorate it and put it away is just torture for me. It’s work. And many years, I don’t decorate because I don’t want to have to take everything down again. Do you get pangs when you have to put stuff away? Or is that equally as pleasurable?

No. It’s not. Because it IS work. We get a real tree every year, so that is work for Dave, and you have to remember to look after them — water them and all that. But that’s part of our tradition. We’ve always had a real tree and we love that — the smell and the fun of bringing it in and it’s all tied up and wondering what kind of tree you’re going to have this year. That’s part of the fun, because every year the decorating changes because you get a different-shaped tree.

Do you have different coloured lights and balls and everything so you can change the style and colour to match the style and shape of the tree?

Yes! (laughs)

Is that why you had to build on? To store all this stuff?

Almost. I have bins and bins. It’s always like another shed is needed or something, because, you know, we do collect.

But the family shares the tradition, so that kind of makes it extra-special — it’s not just, ‘Oh — here’s Mom’s thing again.’ Everybody’s into it.

Exactly — it’s not a roll-your-eyes kind of situation. I mean, I know that Christmas isn’t for everyone, and I know that people don’t enjoy Christmas for various reasons, which I totally get. And I don’t try to push anything on anyone. But it’s just that I have so many people — and I’m very blessed that I have so many friends and family — who enjoy it just as much as I do. And my husband, bless his heart, has just gone with it and learned to love it as we have gone through the years.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 21, 2013

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So you’ve described yourself to me before as — I don’t think you used the word ‘fanatatic,’ but …

No. I’m not a fanatic. I’m a Christmas lover!

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So you’ve described yourself to me before as — I don’t think you used the word ‘fanatatic,’ but …

No. I’m not a fanatic. I’m a Christmas lover!

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