A true-blue ’Bama fan sees red when she decorates for Christmas – and her flair for Yuletide decorating just might leave you green with envy.
It’s easy to tell when the holidays have arrived at the Stevens Pointe home of Marianne McCuller in Martinez. That’s when Marianne, a University of Alabama alum and avid fan, replaces her Crimson Tide paraphernalia with Christmas finery.
Most of the Crimson Tide décor takes up temporary residence on the back deck to make way for Christmas trimmings, and Marianne makes many of her decorations – including the wreath and swag on the side door – herself.
“I have a closet full of stuff to make wreaths, but I have to do it when I’m in the mood,” she says. “When I get in the mood, I just put on the Christmas music and get in the dining room and make, make, make.”
The garland that is wrapped around the stair bannister in the foyer is adorned with red and white berries as well as silver balls. The Christmas tree in the great room is trimmed with red and gold balls, but she never decorates it the same way twice.
“I do my tree a little bit differently every year,” says Marianne, who worked as a nurse for 35 years before retiring in 2012. “I added the flocked branches. A green tree is so boring.”
Signs of Welcome
Marianne not only enjoys celebrating the holidays with her decorations, however. She loves to entertain during the Yuletide season as well. Two years ago Marianne, an officer in the Stevens Pointe homeowners’ association, tried to organize an event where neighbors – who have a progressive dinner in the spring – visited each other’s homes to see their Christmas decorations.
When the idea didn’t gain much traction, however, she simply opened her own home instead. She and her late husband, Don, who passed away in April, had a neighborhood association party at their house. They had another holiday party the following year as well. Not that this was anything new. “We had Christmas parties in this house many, many years,” says Marianne.
More than 50 people came to the party both years, and all of the neighbors brought a dish to share. The dining room table was covered with “real” food, and the kitchen table was filled with desserts.
“It makes it easier because we have some great cooks in this neighborhood,” Marianne says.
Family gatherings at the house during the holidays give Marianne the opportunity to experience the Christmas spirit through the eyes of her two young grandchildren, ages 2-1/2 and 6.
Of course, one of the surest signs that all – and we do mean all – are welcome at the McCuller house is right on the front door. That’s where a tiny bird’s nest is tucked in the wreath that hangs on the door.
“The bird’s nest has been in the wreath for years,” says Marianne. “I didn’t want to take it out.”
Holiday greenery on the mailbox by the street sets a welcoming tone, and a “Merry Christmas, Y’all” flag in the yard (where an Alabama flag usually stands sentry) sends season’s greetings to anyone who passes by.
Marianne also decorates a pair of small trees with Christmas ornaments in planters on the front porch. She wraps a 10-inch roll of foil around each planter and stuffs red mesh under the trees as well.
“These are things that I already had,” she says. “I use the foil to make wreaths.”
Reminders of Home
Marianne brings out many reminders of home for the holidays. She says her parents, who died three weeks apart in 2010 after 67 years of marriage, used to love to visit Williamsburg, Virginia, and she visited Colonial Williamsburg several weeks before Christmas last year. The trip inspired her to decorate a cone, which belonged to her mother, with fresh fruit in true Williamsburg style. The cone adds holiday cheer to the island in the kitchen, and an open Williamsburg cookbook is displayed on a stand on a kitchen counter.
A trio of crocheted ornaments that a neighbor made for Marianne two years ago hangs from a planter in the great room.
“My mother used to make things like this,” Marianne says of the homemade ornaments. “They remind me of my mom.”
The crèche on the piano in the great room came from her childhood home. “I remember that as a child. I still have the original box,” says Marianne. “And that was my mother’s piano. I learned to play on it.”
Her mother also made a cross-stitch pillow – claiming Santa is an Alabama fan – which Marianne has on a chair in the great room. Of course, she keeps many other reminders of home in the house throughout the year as well.
Her maternal grandfather owned a camera store in Birmingham, Alabama, so Marianne has shelves full of family pictures on a pair of built-in bookcases in the great room. In fact, to make room for the photos, a wet bar in the great room was replaced with a built-in bookcase that matches the original one.
A vintage manual typewriter, which belonged to her mother when she worked as a church secretary, occupies a corner of the dining room.
Wit and Whimsy
The mementoes gathered through a lifetime, along with the Christmas décor, lend an air of comfort and coziness to the house during the holidays.
Red and green garland surrounds the front door in the foyer, and the Christmas tree is the perfect size for the space in the great room.
“I downsized from a big, huge tree to a skinnier tree so I wouldn’t have to move my furniture so much,” says Marianne.
A clear bowl on the ottoman in the middle of the room is filled with red and white balls. Red and gold Christmas trees of staggered heights are nestled in garland along the mantel in the great room, and red and gold balls accent the garland. By the fireplace, a tall skinny white-spotted black cat sports a pair of reindeer antlers to showcase Marianne’s whimsical side.
Her wit extends into the kitchen, where a small Santa Claus figurine stands beneath a glass dome on a table. “My friends ask me why I’m holding Santa hostage in there,” Marianne says.
The kitchen was remodeled in 2010, and the room features stainless steel appliances, glass-front cabinets, pendant lights above the island, hardwood flooring and granite countertops. While the island features a black countertop, the rest of the countertops are light. Marianne also had her mother’s original hand-written recipe for Hawaiian Banana Nut Bread framed, and it hangs on a kitchen wall.
A bottle, which was dipped in chocolate by La Bonbonnière, sits on a chest in the dining room. “My neighbor works there, and she brought it to me as a hostess gift,” says Marianne. “She knows what I like.”
Imagination and Creativity
Marianne went on a wreath-making binge a couple of years ago, and her handiwork is evident throughout the house. She made the wreaths on the double doors in the kitchen that lead to the deck and courtyard.
She also made a wreath in the sunroom, which overlooks the courtyard. To make the wreath on the sunroom door, she took off the decorations that were on a grapevine wreath she already had and made a Christmas bow for it.
“I just like to be creative. I think it’s just fun to re-imagine it every year and go out and find things you forgot you had,” Marianne says. “I can’t draw. I can’t paint. I’m not a good cook, so I just have to be imaginative in other ways.”
A red and white ball sits in each of three silver vases on the sunroom table to add to the holiday décor.
Marianne also made the Alabama wreath that hangs on the back door during the Christmas holidays. The wreath includes ribbon with a black and white houndstooth pattern, ribbon with red and white chevron stripes and a “Roll Tide” sign. “I put a Christmas ornament on it, but it’s an Alabama ornament,” Marianne says.
Last year the weather was warm enough for Christmas party guests to stand outside on the deck, where the camellias bloomed. Red cushions occupy the chairs around the umbrella table on the deck, and an oversized green wreath with white lights and red bows hangs on the wall outside.
“I like to decorate for Christmas,” Marianne says, “but all holidays are fun.”
By Betsy Gilliland