YACOLT — For many, the holidays are a time to reconnect with loved ones. But for Janis Bell, those loved ones are a bit more glittery than for the rest of us.
Starting in October each year, the Yacolt woman starts the long process of decorating the home she shares with her husband, Marty Bell, and Molly, their Havanese dog. It’s the time when she dons gloves, opens her custom-built, temperature-controlled storage unit and pulls thousands of glass Christmas ornaments from their boxes.
Janis Bell, 69, has been collecting ornaments since she was 18. Her first ornament was a chubby glass Santa with a cotton ball atop his hat, and the collection has since expanded to 2,000 ornaments, 79 Christmas village pieces and 18 trees, each with a unique theme.
“I was born with it,” Janis Bell said of her penchant for collecting. “I love pretty things.”
There’s her patriotic tree, decorated with red, white and blue ornaments and glass busts of presidents past.
There’s an old-fashioned tree, decorated with her mother’s ornaments and surrounded by strings of popcorn and cranberries. That’s the one tree Molly the dog needs to be kept away from. She likes to eat the popcorn.
There are two trees in Marty Bell’s “man cave.” She lets him decorate those himself. Well, mostly. There’s a glass Babe Ruth ornament she insists on putting on a baseball-themed tree herself.
“I’m very fussy,” she admits.
Then there’s Janis Bell’s favorite tree, which she’s nicknamed the “Fabulous Femme,” a white feather tree covered in delicate dolls. That tree is set up in the Bells’ bedroom, along with a bridal-themed Christmas village on a bedside table.
And over the years, as she’s scoured long-closed Christmas stores and trunk sales, she’s winnowed her collection to her favorite designers, including Christopher Radko, Katherine’s Collection and Department 56.
“I like the variety. I like the colors,” Janis Bell said.
It’s been a wholesome activity for Janis Bell over the years, hearkening back to her own girlhood Christmases. Her childhood stocking hangs on the mantle, in remarkably good shape for its age, alongside her husband’s and Molly’s. It was always filled with fruit as a child, she recalled.
“I’m really sentimental,” she said.
But it’s also a deeply spiritual project for Bell, who attends Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland.
“It’s a labor of love to glorify Jesus,” she said.
Though the Christmas ornaments have been up for weeks, today is the true start of the season for the Bells. Nearly every year since 2006, the couple has welcomed family and friends into their home to explore the vast collection of ornaments. They estimate 120 visitors will come to tonight’s party.
“We do this for our friends,” Marty Bell said. “It’s quite an event.”
And if you guessed that Janis Bell is as meticulous about her party planning as she is her ornament collecting, you’d be right. She’s prepared a four-page document to hand out to guests, offering details about her collection. It saves her from having to answer the same questions again and again, she said.
After the holidays, the ornaments will be carefully packed up in their boxes, wrapped in acid-free paper and put away for another year. But come Oct. 1, it will be time to start over – and a chance for Janis Bell, once again, to enjoy the company of her favorite things.
“It’s like seeing old friends,” Janis Bell said.