What happens when you combine 40,500 lights, 1,600 yards of ribbon, endless pounds of fake snow and thousands upon thousands of Christmas tree decorations?
For the six-member team of volunteer women who built this year’s Christmas Around the World exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the result is 26 exquisitely decorated trees that will be on display to the public through Jan. 8.
The 26 trees represent the 26 countries that President Reagan visited during his two terms in office, said Sharon Harrington of Simi Valley, creator and designer of the exhibit. “There’s always something different — they’re little details,” said Harrington, who has been in charge of the exhibit for the last nine years. “This year, for instance, we’ve decided to match the tree skirts; and these are all new lanterns that we hung around the trees from Asia. It’s just the décor that changes year to year.”
The volunteer effort, which began in September, also involved Claudia Oulie of Northridge, Marcie Fisher of Simi Valley, Helena Bellion of Camarillo and Rhonda Kaihara and Denise McNulty, both of Moorpark. “We always build on what we did the year before,” McNulty said. “We’re just very picky and we’ll get a tree done and it will look good — but as we look at it there are always improvements to be done.”
Trees are decorated with symbols, colors and other embellishments that are culturally relevant to the countries they represent. The main colors on the tree that represents Brazil, for instance, include turquoise, purple and hot pink, with a topper of red feathers that looks like a headdress from Carnival. The Colombia tree includes clear ornaments filled with coffee beans, among other decorations. “Colombia was actually the toughest one to interpret,” Harrington said. “It is religious Catholic, but then we had so many crosses on so many trees, it was like, let’s try to bring out something else about the country.”
The tree that represents Indonesia is covered with miniature animals including a hippo, elephant, white tiger and snake. “They have a lot wild animals there, which I didn’t know until I started researching,” Harrington said.
Of particular note is the Vatican tree decorated entirely with white ornaments and featuring a life-size white peacock that adorns the tree’s branches. “They actually do have white peacocks in the Vatican garden,” Harrington said. The featured tree is an elegant reproduction of President and Mrs. Reagan’s White House tree complete with “Reagan Red” decorations and dozens of hand-blown glass ornaments.
Other countries represented include Canada, Ireland, Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland, Finland, Iceland, Korea, China and Japan.
The annual Christmas tree exhibit is a holiday tradition in the community, said Melissa Giller, chief marketing officer for the the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. “We have people that come every year, as well as people who come out to see it for the first time,” Giller said.
“People are calling on the phone all the time — when does it open?” Harrington said. “We just celebrated our 25th anniversary here at the Reagan Library so for a long time people have been coming.”
The effort wouldn’t be possible without help from her volunteers, who spent at least seven hours a day building the exhibit to perfection. “It’s seven hours a day, but it’s fun just to see it go from boxes to actually being this,” Fisher said. “I enjoy the company the most. The girls are fun to hang out with.”
Giller added that the trees are also educational. “In prior years when visitors have toured our Christmas Around the World exhibit, they share with us that it is so much fun to spend time at each tree and learn more about the different cultures around the world,” Giller said. “Whether guests come for the beauty or the history lesson, we are just honored to be a part of their holidays.”
Christmas Around the World shows through Jan. 8 at the Reagan Library, 40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley. For tickets and more information, call 410-8354 or visit www.reaganfoundation.org.