PHOTOS

'Twas months before Christmas,

and all through the night, while some dreamed of beaches,

Alison had a yuletide fright.

The weather was hot,

the A/C was humming.

But Alison was scared:

Christmas was coming.


"I have nightmares in July. I just dream like, `Oh, my God, it's tree time and I'm not ready for it,"' said Alison Ingebrigtsen-Siewert. "But somehow something kicks in and the obsession comes back. I'll be at a store and see a tree, and want to add it to my collection."

That collection, this year, totals 102 Christmas trees that turn Ingebrigtsen-Siewert's West Hills home into a Christmas forest by as early as October.

"We even have Christmas trees in the bathroom," Ingebrigtsen-Siewert said, laughing.

But while Ingebrigtsen-Siewert is a self-professed "nut case," she's not the only one obsessed with holiday decorating.

Americans spend an average of $6.9 billion a year on Christmas decorations, according to the National Retail Federation.

And if the marathon of movies from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" to "Deck the Halls" is any indication, going overboard with holiday lights and the like isn't a new talking point around the eggnog bowl.

"You see people devote an entire wall in their garage to manger scenes and boxes of decorations," said Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist and professor at California State University, Los Angeles. "Most people know at least one person who starts decorating for Christmas after Halloween and takes weeks perfecting that holiday charm."

For Ingebrigtsen-Siewert, it's a more than two-month process that ensures that by Thanksgiving the house exudes the smell of pine cones, cinnamon and gingerbread rather than turkey and pumpkin pie.

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"Once you enter her house, you get overwhelmed," said Ingebrigtsen-Siewert's sister, Kristin Bradley. "It looks like Christmas threw up in her house."

Walking through the living room can be a feat: One has to dodge a branch here and another branch there to avoid breaking an ornament.

"It's a good thing I don't have high ceilings because it would get really scary," Ingebrigtsen-Siewert said, laughing. "But there's always room for more trees. When I think I can't fit more, I find a nook to fill."

As a child growing up in Woodland Hills, Ingebrigtsen-Siewert said she'd play outside and cut branches off her neighborhood pine trees to take back to her bedroom, inspired by the pitiful but adorable Christmas tree doted on by Charlie Brown.

Trees adorn Alison Ingebrigtsen-Siewert’s home in West Hills.
Trees adorn Alison Ingebrigtsen-Siewert's home in West Hills. (David Crane/Staff Photographer)

"I've had an obsession with Christmas trees since I was little," she said. "Some girls buy shoes. I buy trees."

But Ingebrigtsen-Siewert said the birth of her daughter, Kristin, in 1999 officially kick-started her Christmas tree collection.

"I waited 13 years to have kids, so when I did people bought me so many Baby's First ornaments that it didn't fit on just one tree. That's how it started. See, I was normal," she said. "Up until 1999, we were a one-tree family."

Now all five family members have a dedicated Christmas tree, along with their two dogs and two cats and even Ingebrigtsen-Siewert's late Aunt Kathy, whose tree serves as a memorial.

Come Jan. 8, however, Ingebrigtsen-Siewert's Christmas high crashes.

"I love my trees and I get so sad when we have to take them down," she said. "I seriously get major Christmas remorse."

That's where Durvasula said holiday decorators may need to take a step back.

"What you have to look is: `Does it jump the line between natural behavior or disorder?' If people don't put decorations up, do they have discomfort? Are they anxious? Are these things encroaching on people? Are they spending money that the family needs?" Durvasula said.

"You really have to look at whether it causes your own sense of distress or other people's discomfort," she added.

Generally, however, Durvasula theorizes that most Christmastime fanatics simply love the holiday season because it reminds them of a better time in their lives that they want share with others.

Gayla Park, who quips that she still believes in Santa Claus, has been decking out her home on Schoolcraft Street in West Hills in lavish Christmas
Gayla Park, who quips that she still believes in Santa Claus, has been decking out her home on Schoolcraft Street in West Hills in lavish Christmas displays since 1960. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer)

"I'm still a believer," quipped 75-year-old Gayla Park. "No one ever told me there wasn't a Santa Claus so I'm going to keep believing."

And Park wants to keep that belief alive for the kids on her block.

Every year Park puts out her Santa Claus mailbox where children can write to St. Nick - and get a reply.

The mailbox, however, is just one piece of an elaborate display that Park excitedly plans each year.

Since 1960, Park said she has brought out the Christmas linen and dishes as well as indoor decor to deck the halls of her home. Outside, she pulls out Santa's sleigh and even brings snow to her neighborhood with a snow machine.

Park admits "it's mind-boggling even to me" how she recreates the winter wonderland bigger and better each year.

"I call myself the original Mrs. Claus," she said, laughing. "My kids think I'm nuttier than a fruitcake."

Technology aids the decorating addiction

The advance of technology may also be part of the reason holiday decorations have gone over-the-top to become YouTube viral sensations.

The Maddux family of Newhall has developed quite a following with their holiday light show, which runs Dec. 2-31.

Jim Maddux started with 16 channels and now has 300 channels that control the thousands of lights on his house.

Two years ago the family also added a radio station to allow motorists cruising by to sync up music in their car to the light display.

Bob and Margie Byrnes of Winnetka have built up their own display over the years at their Irondale Avenue home.

This year, they have a total of 25 handmade pieces running off 39 motors that all move to traditional Christmas tunes sung by Willie Nelson, who is represented on the rooftop by a guitar-holding teddy bear with a Nelson-esque red headband.

"More and more people are pushing the meaning of Christmas aside," Bob Byrnes said. "People don't decorate like they used to because everyone seems to have gotten busier," Byrnes said. "But in my day, this stuff was such a treat."

Margie Byrnes added they know it is still a treat for many people, proven each day when people stop to stare.

On a recent Tuesday, just after the sunset, at least a dozen cars started their slow roll down Irondale Avenue, some parking and getting out for a closer look.

"It's great fun," said Bruce McNeilly, who brought his granddaughter, Jayden, by for the holiday spectacle. "I admire people like this for all the work they put into it."

Wide-eyed and jumping with joy each time one display showed a mouse peeking out of a box or Mrs. Claus rocking in her chair, 5-year-old Jayden exclaimed: "I love it all!"

Sonny Lopez, like Byrnes, is a blue-collar retiree who still loves to work with his hands.

Lopez, whose Woodland Hills house marks the start of Candle Light Lane, in the eight-block area known as Candy Cane Lane for its elaborate light displays, has more than 20 Santa Claus figures lined around his property, on his lawn and on the roof.

It all started with an 18-foot Santa he bought 40 years ago and has turned into thousands of dollars worth of a collection that even includes seven Santa figures and wall hangings inside his home, he said.

This year, Lopez added three Santa figures, including a new favorite that shows the jolly Saint Nick playing a guitar. He isn't sure when he'll ever stop adding to his collection.

Ingebrigtsen-Siewert vows she won't, and Park doesn't see herself scaling back either.

"It's my life," Park said of her holiday-decorating hobby. "Love motivates me to do it. The neighbors love it and so do the kids. I do it all for them."

mariecar.mendoza@dailynews.com

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