AUBURN — Mary and Richard LaFontaine held their annual New Year’s Day open house Monday for friends and family to see and be wowed by the couple’s ever-growing, over-the-top Christmas village.
Mary said she and Richard have been working on the village for 22 years, cultivating the collection piece-by-piece.
There are currently just under 100 houses and hundreds of “accessory” pieces, including people, animals and trees.
The Grape’s Inn is the first piece the couple bought. Mary said she bought the piece not knowing it was part of a large series.
“The rest,” she said, “is history.”
“Some years we get one house, some years none, some we get 13 or 14 depending on our budget,” she said.
Diane Tozier of Poland comes to the open house every year with her husband, Michael. “It’s out of this world,” Tozier said. “Every year it gets bigger and bigger.”
“It’s different every year,” she said. “They make different street designs and there are usually new pieces they need to find a place for.”
The LaFontaines call this year’s addition “the annex” because it is a full table of pieces that were set up after the rest of the display was done.
“I think it should be in a museum,” Tozier said. “It shouldn’t have to come down.”
Mary said she starts setting up the village around October, with a goal of having everything done by Thanksgiving. It then stays up until March.
Michael Tozier describes the village as amazing.
“I don’t have the know-how to do this,” he said. “And I don’t think there’s anything else like this in Lewiston-Auburn.”
All the pieces are from the “Dickens Village” line from the company Department 56.
Mary said she and Richard like to buy the pieces together.
“It’s a hobby we enjoy,” she said.
Her personal favorite in the display is the seaside village, because it includes the Grape’s Inn, which she said will probably always be her favorite piece because it was their first.
The village contains a green space for the buildings with no snow, a downtown area for shops and vendors, a farm area and the seaside village.
There is also a lake that winds through much of the scenery, and a train track, which Mary said should be ready to run next year.
Some of the pieces include a naval academy, cottages, a brewery, lighthouses and boats, horse-drawn carriages and flower stalls.
There is a ski mountain, an ice-skating rink, a church and a house with people dancing inside.
In keeping with the Dickens theme, there is an office for Ebeneezer Scrooge, a cottage for Tiny Tim and several London landmarks, including the Globe Theater and Big Ben.
Snow covers the ground across most of the village, except for the sea and the grass at either end. Cobblestone streets, trees and animals give the village even more character and charm.
“This has been a long time in the making,” Michael Tozier said.
“We all drool over it every year,” said Melissa Long of Auburn. “It’s absolutely beautiful, and I look forward to seeing it every year (including) and all the new pieces and how it’s configured.”
“Every year it’s bigger and better,” Long said. “Every year it feels like a new thing.”
Patti Gagne of Lewiston said she’s known Mary LaFontaine for several years and has been to the open house many times.
“This is a must see every year,” Gagne said. “They set it up differently every year so it looks new. It gives you a feeling of wonder.”
Gagne said her favorite part of this year’s display is the ski mountain, with two skiers going up and down.
“It’s just so neat,” she said.
She said it is special that the LaFontaines open their house every year.
“This is really a highlight for us,” Mary LaFontaine said. “It’s just fun to have family and friends together enjoying great food and laughter.”