The Christmas world of Mary and Mike Woolley is so enchanting that a visitor's first experience is simply the happy struggle to take it all in.
From their Haddonfield front porch through every downstairs room, this couple, owners of Nature's Gifts Flower Shop in Voorhees, play out a script that's the exact opposite of the tale of the shoemaker: Their three adult children and nine grandchildren get every imaginable holiday trimming, with somewhat different touches each year because, as Mary insists, "It's just fun!"
Though her everyday life is beyond hectic, she loves the holidays, and so does her husband of 52 years. They have memories of Christmases in other times and places, including one as newlyweds in a rented apartment full of the owner's rich furnishings near Muhlenberg College during Mike's student days.
Seems they had no star for the top of their tiny tree, so Mike made one out of aluminum foil. Unfortunately, that artistic effort was executed on a coffee table, leaving indelible marks.
"We were young and poor, but we still had to replace that table," said Mike, now 75 and retired from a career in office and computer supplies. "We learned that fine coffee tables are not the best place for craft projects."
There have been Christmases since in various houses as the family grew and moved. The houses got bigger, then too big.
"Our last home in Cherry Hill, just a few miles away from this one, was our biggest, and when we started getting serious about downsizing, we knew we wanted to be in Haddonfield," Mary said. "We loved the idea of a town with a main street that we could walk to."
After looking for awhile, they got a call one morning from their agent, who said, in essence, "I've just found your home."
They rushed over and fell in love instantly. The 1960s Cape Cod, constructed by Scarborough Homes (builder of two of their previous homes), was perfect in size and style. They bought it immediately.
Today, cozy charm abounds in that house. The Woolleys aren't much for ostentation, and they have decorated it with the kind of taste that puts comfort and warmth above "notice me" design.
Mary's fondness for antiques - she once dragged home a full-size sleigh for the lawn of their largest house, to her husband's initial consternation - is apparent. An old icebox has been reused for storage and as a conversation piece in the dining room, and a church pew in the same room provides overflow seating.
With a trained eye after 20 years in the flower shop, Mary can spot a potential accessory instantly, and the couple's joint appreciation for the past accounts for many of their treasures.
But it's around the holidays that their house, with its sunny golden walls and exquisite but friendly rooms, becomes magical.
Christmas Central is the family room with its long brick fireplace wall, an instant focal point. On it, a printed message that simply reads "Believe" coexists with an extensive collection of Santas, one popping out of a tiny cabinet.
A family favorite is the Santa that Mary proudly bought as a young working woman in her first job. "Everything has a story," she said.
Another sentimental favorite is a collection of Nativity scenes, and the one Mary bought as a child at that late, great emporium Woolworth's for less than $2 has a place of honor. Now bearing the scars of many mishaps and mended with glue, this piece's nicks make it all the more cherished.
Reminders are everywhere that this is a home where Christmas is celebrated in meaningful style. Even the china closet in the traditional dining room wears a garland Mary made.
Windowsills hold her creations, some crafted of greens and branches, many decked out in ribbons, garlands, candy canes, and cinnamon sticks.
The Woolleys remember early years in both their lives - she is a native of Deal, N.J., and he grew up in Elberon - when Christmas was not the material frenzy it is today.
"One doll was plenty back then," Mary said. The feeling that the world has grown too materialistic is one of the driving forces behind this couple's need to make the holiday home-centered and created largely by loving hands.
The Woolleys chose holly sprigs, berries, and evergreens from their own property to make the trimmings for a bird-themed tree on the front porch overlooking the steps they installed to give the facade more interest.
Just days before Christmas, Mike usually sets up a fresh tree in the enclosed porch adjacent to the living room, the one room where just a hint of formality reigns. Wicker and more casual furniture are the decor there.
And that porch is where the family will gather for gift-giving and the traditional Christmas brunch, complete with happy holiday clamor.
Mary and Mike will have seen to it that there are Christmas trimmings - and yes, Christmas cookies - in abundance.
Holiday deliveries to other homes, with Mike taking on some of those duties, will have been completed.