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Decorations from around the world help carry on family tradition in Chestnut Hill

“We’re passionate about Christmas,” says one of the Chestnut Hill homeowners, "or crazy.“

The home of Bruce Davidson (left) and Don Barb in Philadelphia's Chestnut Hill neighborhood is decked out for Christmas. They have six Christmas trees, toy trains and villages, and creches from around the world.
The home of Bruce Davidson (left) and Don Barb in Philadelphia's Chestnut Hill neighborhood is decked out for Christmas. They have six Christmas trees, toy trains and villages, and creches from around the world.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Visitors to Don Barb and Bruce Davidson’s Chestnut Hill home enthused over the six Christmas trees adorned with gorgeous ornaments, a twinkling colonial Williamsburg village on a windowsill, finely crafted figures in numerous creches, holly-patterned plates in china cabinets and table settings, angels topping trees and hovering over fireplace mantels, and much more.

“We’re passionate about Christmas,” Don admitted to one visitor, “or crazy.“

Earlier this month, the couple’s three-story stone colonial revival was one of six beautifully decorated homes on the 2019 Holiday House Tour sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Community Association. The association provided transportation from house to house, hot cider and cookies, and musicians performing seasonal melodies in each of the homes.

A young woman was playing a harp next to the garland-festooned staircase at Barb and Davidson’s house. It was the last stop on the tour, possibly because of the quantity of decorations — or maybe because a surprise awaited visitors.

Volunteer greeters for the annual tour told visitors to make sure to see the Lionel trains winding around a tree in the enclosed porch but first to look to the right. Those who did were startled and amused by a life-size Santa in an elevator cage.

The elevator was a selling point when they purchased the house over a year ago, Barb said. For now, they use it to haul items to the second-floor enclosed porch, but a time may come when he and Davidson can no longer manage steps.

Barb, 72, and Davidson, 71, who have been together for 36 years, previously owned a home on four acres near Lambertville, N.J. “We realized we needed to be in a walkable community,” Davidson said.

A retired Lutheran pastor, Davidson had attended what’s now called the United Lutheran Seminary in nearby Mount Airy, and he and Barb, a retired insurance company attorney, had friends in the area. They got married in 2013.

Philadelphia, with its orchestra and museums, has a lot to offer, Davidson said, and they are just blocks from two train stations.

Their 1911 home “has been loved and cared for from the beginning, “ Barb said. Oak floors and multipaned windows are original. Former owners updated the master and guest bathrooms on the second floor and the powder room on the first floor. The kitchen was renovated nine years ago with a breakfast-room addition and radiant floor heating.

Spacious rooms accommodated the couple’s furniture, including a custom-made birch four-poster bed and a maple dining table, chairs and buffet that belonged to Davidson’s grandparents. Pale mocha walls with crown molding and trim in a deeper shade provided a neutral background for the colorful December decor.

To prepare for the tour, Davidson set up the trains and crèches, including five nativities with the full tableau of figures from Germany, Italy, Israel, and France and a ceramic set made by a friend. Twenty-eight smaller crèches from the U.S. and abroad range in size from about a foot to just a few inches such as the egg with a nativity scene inside from Hawaii.

In the miniature mountainside village from Provence, France, on display in the living room, tiny clay peasants tend their livestock seemingly unaware the stable at the edge of the village is home to a holy family. Figures in a nativity set from Rome are clothed in starched fabric. A crèche in the breakfast room was carved inside a hollowed log by a woodworker in North Carolina and was a gift to Davidson from a niece.

Barb set up the trees, which range from four to nine feet, and strung them with white lights, except for the dining-room tree, which has multicolored bubble lights.

The foyer tree is hung with ornaments purchased from Christmas markets in Germany. The tall living-room tree is decorated with early 20th century glass ornaments re-created by artist Christopher Radko. A “travel tree" in the breakfast room has ornaments from places the couple have been, including Belgium, Holland, Barbados, and England. One is a miniature of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Why this passion for Christmas?

“Tradition,” the men said. Davidson’s mother was born Christmas Eve and his grandmother was born Christmas Day. Barb’s parents were married Christmas Day.

“The holidays were always important to both our families,” he said.

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