That's the Christmas Spirit!
Britt Beemer calls himself the ‘ultimate fanatic’ about decorating for the holidays. One look inside his home proves that he’s not exaggerating.
There's one in almost every neighborhood: the house with over-the-top Christmas décor that confirms there’s somebody crazy—about Christmas, anyway—living there.
In one quiet lakeside community off Holden Avenue in Edgewood, the cuckoo-for-Christmas title goes to Britt Beemer, hands-down. He starts decorating on Nov. 1, and the last bits of tinsel and trappings don’t come down until the middle of January. He’s such a nut for the holiday that it’s a safe bet he’d keep the decorations up year-round, if the neighbors (and his wife, Jan) didn’t object. “I am the ultimate Christmas fanatic,” says Beemer.
If Beemer’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he is ubiquitous this time of year in ways that have nothing to do with his Christmas-decorating fervor. Beemer, 58, analyzes consumer behavior for a living, and he is the media’s go-to source for forecasting the holiday shopping season. Predictably, his projections haven’t been too cheerful since the economy went south.
“It’s not going to be a very pretty picture,” Beemer says of this holiday shopping season’s outcome at the cash register. “I hate to be the guy” who forecasts gloom.
But that’s his day job—his vocation—as the chairman and founder of America’s Research Group. His avocation is decking the halls of his elegant, French chateau-inspired home from top to bottom, inside and out.
It starts each year on his birthday, Sept. 12, when Jan takes him shopping for decorations at Marge’s Specialties, a massive home décor showroom on North Orange Blossom Trail. There, Beemer picks out a new holiday treasure or two for his collection, then it’s a Herculean effort to get through Halloween.
After the last of the trick-or-treaters have gone and the clock strikes midnight, “all the Halloween stuff comes down and we start decorating for Christmas,” says Beemer. He and Jan don’t follow a set decorating plan; while some elements are constant from year to year, like the parade of lighted Santas (more than 200 in all) that march along the property line outside and the massive garlands that festoon the foyer, other elements are new each year.
It takes five weeks to complete the decorating, which includes every room (even Beemer’s walk-in closet boasts a miniature Christmas village and a statue of Santa) and outdoor space (a lighted tree and wreath decorate the pool area). Each bathroom receives more than a dash of decorations: Beemer had wooden platforms custom-cut to fit atop the master bath’s whirlpool tub and the claw-foot tub in a hall bath so that lighted holiday villages could be set on them. The village on the claw-foot tub also has a locomotive that whistles and makes chugging noises as it spews “smoke” from its stack.
Beemer has always loved Christmas, but his childhood holidays were a far cry from the joyous celebrations he enjoys with his family today. He says his father, a survivor of a World War II POW camp, “wasn’t very sentimental; Dad was into practicality.” Practicality meant few holiday decorations and fewer festivities, a legacy Beemer was determined not to pass on as a parent himself.
Beemer and his wife “always decorated before, but it was the girls that made us really excited about Christmas,” he says. “And once I start something, I go all the way.”
The “girls” are Chloe, 13, and Claire, 10, whom the Beemers adopted at 14 months and 9 months of age, respectively. Once the Beemer girls were old enough to drape tinsel and hang ornaments themselves, they got in on the action, too, dressing their rooms in holiday style. Each has a nearly full-size tree in her room, decorated according to her own taste. Claire’s tree is topped by a lighted angel and has a holiday train circling its base, while Chloe’s tree has a ladder-climbing Santa scaling its heights. Some of the trimmings decorating the trees’ branches are far more meaningful than others. On Claire’s tree, it’s the angel figurines that are most meaningful; on Chloe’s, it’s the heart-shaped ornaments. Jan continues a family tradition by giving each girl a new ornament every Christmas Eve.
“Jan’s mother has been giving her heart ornaments since she was a little girl,” says Beemer. Jan, 54, still receives a heart-shaped decoration from her mother every Christmas, and they’re all displayed on her own personal tree in the master suite.
Another tree with very special ornaments is in the dining room. “That’s where we display the children’s ornaments,” says Jan. Every handmade creation, from glitter-bedecked construction paper trees to handprint reindeers to stars crafted of popsicle sticks, has a place of honor on one of the tree’s branches. The Beemers add to the collection each year as the girls bring home school projects or create new masterpieces at home.
There’s not a tree in every room of the Beemer home, but the devout Beemer mandates that every room contain one particular Christmas item. “There’s not a room without a nativity scene,” says Beemer, ever mindful of the reason for the season.
His childhood home in Bedford, Iowa, didn’t have a nativity, but he vividly remembers the candles shaped like choir singers that were put on display each Christmas. When he came across identical candles at Vermont Country Store, he snatched them up. “I hadn’t seen them in 30 years,” he says.
If decorating the home is a lot of work, so is un-decorating it. Two weeks into the new year, the Beemers start packing up the ornaments, a task that can take three weeks. The countless boxes are carefully labeled and stored in specially built cabinets in the garage and laundry room. Until Nov. 1, anyway, when Beemer opens those boxes once again, as excited as, well, a kid at Christmas.
And why shouldn’t he be? After all, he and Jan are creating lasting memories for Claire and Chloe.
“I want them to say, ‘Nobody does it better than my folks,’ ” says Beemer. “It’s all about the memories they’ll have their whole lives.”