The Christmas village that decorates Rocco Martino and Mark Magaldi's Mount Laurel living room is a three-tiered tableau aglow with tinsel and merry with motion.

Within this miniature holiday metropolis, skaters circle a Christmas tree, kids ride on a Ferris wheel, and Santa swings in a hammock amid a Victorian-Bavarian landscape of holly-bedecked mansions and snow-topped shoppes.

"We're trying to give a sense of stepping back in time," says Martino, 47, who works in quality control for a glass manufacturer.

The village combines components bought at retail shops or online with customized and handmade pieces.

"The mountain climbers are new this year," Magaldi notes. "We believe it's our best so far."

All of the elements are meticulously arranged and lovingly lit against a mountainous backdrop that features three kinds of artificial snow.

If the artists Grandma Moses and Thomas Kinkade were to collaborate on a model-railroading layout in New England, it might look something like this. But it surely would not be as fabulous.

"The village is my idea of the ultimate Christmas," Martino says. "People who see it say they wish they could shrink themselves down and live in it. They pick out their houses, and I have a dream house, too."

Martino, who grew up in Camden and later in Collingswood, began to design the ever-evolving village a decade ago. Not on paper, but by hand. It "springs out of my head," he explains.

"What I can't buy, I make. I made the boardwalk with Popsicle sticks. The fencing was all done with barbecue skewers. Basically, all the mountains are papier mâche. All hand-painted."

Says Magaldi, 49, a South Philly native who credits his partner with "99.9 percent" of the work: "I'd like to get some running water into the next one."

That will have to wait until Christmas 2014. The size, complexity, and labor-intensiveness of the village mean it must be an every-other-year tradition.

"The other years we put up four Christmas trees," Martino says with a laugh.

The guys typically start working on the village in September, flip the switch (five of them, actually) after Thanksgiving, and begin to dismantle their creation in mid-January. By then they've hit the after-Christmas sales for new pieces.

"If we had more room, it would be huge, and we'd leave it up all year," says Magaldi, an assistant to a funeral-home director.

While the village is on display, dozens of friends, family members, and neighbors visit the couple's cozy home.

"We've watched it grow, and this year is the best yet," says retiree Jan Fuchs, 66, who lives across the street and describes Martino as an artist.

"He's just amazing. Very meticulous," she says, noting that Martino "channels the wires under the cotton, so that all you see are the lights."

The cost of electricity "is not astronomical," Martino notes. Village buildings generally go for about $50; mechanical pieces, such as the amusement-park rides, top $100.

"We don't do it to show off," Magaldi says. "We do it to make people smile. It's our gift."

It's also magical.

Says Fuchs, "If you're not in the Christmas spirit when you walk into his house, you're certainly in the spirit when you leave."

Take my word for it. She's right.

Kevin Riordan:

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