ELIZABETHTOWN, KY (WAVE) - Christmas comes but once a year, but at Celia Thomas' house, the holiday begins arriving soon after she closes the door on the last trick-or-treater on October 31. That's because it takes time to decorate a house with more than six dozen Christmas trees.
"I usually start November 1, right after Halloween," Thomas said.
This year, she has 76 trees in her home, and almost all of them are full size.
"I try to add one each year so it's a surprise at [my annual] open house," said Thomas, an Elizabethtown nurse who works for Hardin Memorial Hospital's Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.
This year's addition is dedicated to Thomas' grandson Beau, born in August to Bowling Green dentists Meghan and Tommy Birkenhauer. Beau, the first grandchild for Thomas and her husband Mike, a veterinarian, has turned the family upside down -- in a good way -- so it's fitting that his tree is upside down. Its ornaments consist of photos of Beau.
"We have pictures on the tree from delivery and every week since birth," Thomas said. "Being grandparents is everything everyone has said it would be. He makes every event so special. We are very blessed."
It's probably a good thing Thomas works part-time hours at the hospital. Decorating her house is a full-time job. She does almost all of it herself.
"I do all the trees inside and put lights on 12 outside," Thomas said, "but Mike is good about running extension cords and hanging the wreaths."
It's a process that requires patience and outstanding organizational skills.
"All the trees are put back in their original boxes, which are marked as to what room they go in," Thomas said. "All the ornaments are wrapped and placed in containers that say what room and what tree. I like to put up several trees and get them 'fluffed,' then decorate. It seems to go faster."
Thomas insists decorating for Christmas never feels like a chore. "I like being busy, and I find it relaxing as I decorate the trees. It helps to have several days off in the beginning to get several done, so it really makes a difference."
All but one of the trees are artificial, and nearly every one of them has a theme. Some are immensely personal and special to Thomas, her husband and their four successful daughters. In addition to Beau's mom Meghan, there's Rachel, a Lexington pediatrician, Sarah, a St. Louis-based pharmacist, and Amanda, a speech therapist who splits her time between Bowling Green and Nashville, home to her fiance Kory Caudill, a respected pianist from Prestonsburg, Kentucky who tours with country singer Justin Moore.
"I love the real tree that has all our family ornaments and the ones the girls made in school each year," Thomas said. "There are so many memories on that tree."
One treetop is adorned with a hat where a star traditionally is placed. The hat was worn by Thomas' late father, Wilbur Ryan.
"The tree I did in memory of my dad 12 years ago with all our pictures at Christmas time from my childhood will always be very special," Thomas said. "And now, if we lose a close friend or family member, we recognize them on that tree."
Thomas has multiple Christmas trees in every room of her house -- even the garage and bathrooms.
"I have a sled tree in our bathtub that is fun to decorate," she said. "We've collected many sleds over the years."
Thomas has always loved decorating for Christmas. She's been decking the halls in a big way since getting married more than 30 years ago. "I just added more trees each year," she said, "and when we moved to a larger home, it allowed me to do more trees."
The Christmas spirit runs in Thomas' family. "I'm not the only one in my family that decorates like this," she said. "My older brother has amazing outside decorations with a lighted path that leads to Santa's cabin where he waits to hear what children want for Christmas. He also has several trees inside. He loves it as much as I do."
So does the next generation. "My oldest daughter now has her own home," Thomas said, "and in her first year she had five trees."
The Thomases' private open house attracts hundreds of invited friends and family members each year. "We love doing it," Thomas said. "We feed everyone and have music and some Christmas carols. It's a fun night."
That doesn't mean it always goes smoothly.
"One night at open house, the lights went out upstairs," Thomas remembered, "but luckily we had two electricians in the house, so they had them back on really quick."
Thomas said she knows this level of decorating isn't for everyone, but it is for her.
"I think there are a lot of people that enjoy putting up several trees," said. "There are those that dread putting up one, so I tell them to let me come and do it."
Thomas's brother, Tommy Ryan, lives 15 minutes away. He's created a winter wonderland in his backyard.
"My oldest one wis 30 years old," Tommy said. "I started doing this when she was born."
He's dressed up as Santa for three decades. The extra cash from holiday events goes towards the purchase of new inflatable decorations.
The family stops by every year to greet Santa who sits in a wooden outhouse built by Ryan and his wife.
While it's been some time since this brother and sister duo made christmas wish lists, it seems there's a part of them that still believes.