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My favorite Christmas story





About my display

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  1. For those out there struggling to figure out where to start on building a Christmas village, I wanted to share some things I've picked up along the way. Keep in mind these are just my opinions from my experience and taste so I'm sorry if this doesn't jive with your taste. I started out like everyone else with that very first village building. For me, it was my son's first Christmas. I had always had at minimum a train around the tree as a kid. Villages came and went, small and modest but somewhere along the line I was bitten by that Christmas magic as a kid, so I bought my first piece 9 years ago. I wanted to give him that gift as well... as time went on, the village grew piece by piece, a few houses a year and trying different ways to display them. I added a train the second year, and over the years tried several different types and sets. Some displays were winners and some were simply valiant efforts that while they worked, never really did it for me. I spent Christmas after Christmas spinning my wheels trying to create that nostalgia I was looking for. Nostalgia here is the key word. I wanted something that floored me when I looked at it and brought out that inner child. It was more than a handful of buildings and a train (however, in my book it's not Christmas without a train and I don't know why. It doesn't even have to move it just has to be there.) It hit me one year. I needed the appropriate props to bring it to life. Not only that, I needed the appropriate materials to create endless shapes. I experimented with wooden platforms (hard sturdy surface required for metal trains) but they were just flat and hard to see the buildings that weren't in the front. Stacking boxes didn't work because straight lines and corners just don't do it for me. All of the materials I used for snow cover failed because props don't like to stay standing on fluffy surfaces and paint (specifically latex paint) draws moisture from the air and will stick to your village pieces and if two painted pieces touch, they stick together, possibly permanently. A couple years ago I experimented with foam board. Specifically expanded polystyrene. It had all the characteristics I needed in a material. It was rigid, meaning it could handle several hundred pounds of trains and porcelain/ceramic buildings and trains. In fact, distributing the weight on the legs of a tree stand like with a piece of hard board or thick cardboard, I even stand the Christmas trees on top of the foam. It was already snow white and textured. It was easy to work with even for someone with little or no tools (I actually built one with nothing but a razor knife). And lastly, I could create any shape I could dream up. Next, I needed props. The 1950's are a time that brings me that 1950's small town America nostalgic feel, so did steam engine trains (and only steam engine trains). I bought up steam engine trains and diecast 1950's trucks, whatever I could find. Horse drawn sleighs and carriages were a must. Bridges brought a huge nostalgic feel having stood atop many "for architecture only bridges" I was familiar with that feeling. This was something that could be placed anywhere and not need water. Trees, as many as I could fit and people. What I found was that as long as thesss things were there, it didn't really matter that they didn't come from the same time periods etc. I could mash them all together and it is still pleasing to the eye. I stopped building roads and slopes to go from level to level because there was no need to go into that much detail in order to create the effect. This is in no way to mean that those people who do this are wasting their time but for me it isn't necessary. For those who would rather just watch a video slide show of the different stages of my builds, here are some links to this years builds. Here is a video of me and my 2 year old playing trains. My process is basically is to lay out your pieces. If you are using trains, start by laying out the trains first. Everything has to be built around the trains. Identify how much floor space you have available and start with a piece of foam board large enough to cover that area. I use 2" expanded polystyrene. It's more rigid and I don't have to cut more layers to achieve height. Next, start laying out buildings where you want them. Apply layers of foam board to lift buildings as high as necessary to ensure a good view of the next row of buildings. Everything doesn't need to be the same height in a row. In fact it looks better when they aren't the same height. Draw your cut lines around the buildings where you want to split the height. Here is a good example of what I mean by splitting up heights. Back to a larger scale, here is what I mean by applying layers to raise the rows of buildings into view. This is also a good way to create the train tunnels. At this point these layers should be rough cut pieces. I use a jig saw with a long blade it I'm able to work outside or a long blade utility knife if working inside. I like the look of stacked rock personally. Not to insult anyone who spends countless hours carving realistic mountains, I again don't need that layer of detail to create the effect so I simply take the rough cut pieces smooth the edges with a belt sander (if outside) or a utility knife working inside, then I simply cut random facets in the edges like facets of a diamond. In order to give the illusion of snow cover, I take a 4" foam roller and paint the front and bottom facing facets with gray paint like shown below. Keep in mind this was a village that fit on top of a file cabinet so it's packed tight. Add as many people and props as you can. This is the one area where I've never felt I had too much. The more people and props, the more that's going on in there. When you place your trees, try not to block too much of your buildings and props. Notice the bridges, they give off a great look and feel and they don't actually have any function but aesthetics, just architecture for the sake of architecture. Now for lights, I used to go through the mess of building wood platforms, drilling holes etc. if your village is in the middle of the floor then you may have to but in my experience working with this material, I just run the cords between the layers and out the back. The weight of the buildings will flatten out the layers. That tree in the middle is rather heavy prelit that is standing on top of several layers of foam. I just put a piece of cardboard under the feet so they didn't puncture the foam. I hope this simplifies things for anyone who is struggling to create a great scene. Honestly it's simply a matter of the right materials, plenty of people and find the props like the trains, the trucks, the horse drawn carriages, bridges or whatever else creates that nostalgic feel for you and just mash them altogether. I've seen huge expensive villages ruined by too much detail and life like features that take away from the beauty of the village pieces themselves or just creating too much space between buildings and props. A small flat village can be brought to life with a single sheet of $15 foam board if your willing to take the time to cut it up and give structure to the land.