Sister Marcella looks over her table display at St. Mary’s Residences in Lewiston on Wednesday. The floors held a Christmas-themed hallway decorating competition. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

LEWISTON — The tenants at St. Mary’s Residences on Campus Avenue had been decorating their rooms for Christmas at a leisurely pace. With Christmas still two weeks away, there was no particular hurry.

Ruth Michaud, dressed in her Christmas hat and sweater, walks down the hallways of St. Mary’s Residences in Lewiston on Tuesday. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

Then the St. Mary’s administrators decided to make it a contest and that is when the garland began to fly.

“We added the word ‘competition’ to make it a little spicier and to get more people involved,” said St. Mary’s Director Larry Morin. “Now we have as many lights and decorations as I’ve ever seen. Happy, joyous people are really eager for this.”

That is putting it mildly. The past few days have seen a flurry of decorating on all five floors at the residential facility for seniors. Most of the 130 residents, with an average age of 85 years old, have been going all out to decorate the hallways, wings and common areas in a variety of ways.

It is, after all, a contest.

“This is like an uprising for us,” said Cecile Paradis, a 90-year-old who has been living at St. Mary’s for nine years. “We get to come out of our corners.”

The frenzy of decorating has been so intense, Morin and his team are having second thoughts about how how the contest should be judged. Originally, they had planned to name winners in three categories: most nostalgic, most religious and best overall.

But the residents have been going at their festivities with such zeal, Morin and his team were wondering how they could possibly name specific winners without causing a five-floor revolt.

They’ve got a point.

“We’ve been working on this repeatedly, day and night,” said resident Connie Ouellette, who, with second-floor neighbors Doris Dutil and Imelda Latuilippe, has created a “Memory Lane” theme in their hallways and on their doors. “Our hearts and souls went into it.”

It is all about Christmas, and yet by Wednesday afternoon, no two areas of the sprawling apartment complex looked the same.

“You’ll see something different on every floor,” said resident Georgette Ayotte.

The second-floor crew, for instance, went with straight nostalgia, creating displays featuring things like old snow shoes, skis and a vintage sled with metal runners.

The third floor seemed more party oriented — several tenants on Wednesday were walking around in wild holiday sweatshirts and blinking Christmas lights worn as necklaces and hats. Decorations covered almost every surface, there was talk of booze parties and a life-sized Santa danced nonstop in the middle of a hallway.

The fifth floor, on the other hand, stuck mostly with the classics. Up there, Gabrielle Demoras was looking over the yarn dolls she had made for a display and thinking about the old days.

“We had these when we were kids,” the 83-year-old mused. “We didn’t have money for regular dolls so we made them out of yarn.”

Nearby was a Frosty the Snowman-style top hat Anita Gagnon had made out of a large tin can. Next to that was a small Christmas tree strung with popcorn.

“At home, we always made garland out of popcorn,” Demoras said. “We used to put cranberries in between. Then we’d put the tree outside so the birds could eat the popcorn and cranberries.”

A few floors down, Sister Marcella, a resident since 2005, stood over a holiday village she had created in one of the common areas. Surrounded by trees and even a wandering doe, the windows of tiny houses glowed with candles she had placed beneath them.

Several of the props Sister Marcella used for her display have been with her for nearly her entire lifetime.

“Some of these things,” she said, “have a lot of memories.”

But when it comes to competitive decorating, one has to be practical, as well. Sister Marcella said most of the little houses used in her display were purchased only recently.

“I got those,” she said, “at the dollar store.”

Richelle Simard, an 80-year-old who has lived at St. Mary’s for a year and a half, had placed a singing Santa Claus on her door. Not everyone who lived on her floor was able to decorate.

“It’s a little bah humbug down here,” she said, so she turned her attention more to helping to decorate in her floor’s central common area. “Everyone did their share”

Bibianne Laliberte, a resident who coordinated the decorating contest, said the competition spread quickly once it got underway. Some tenants were instantly fired up to create the best displays St. Mary’s has ever seen. It was inspiring for those who had been less motivated to decorate.

“They got people going who don’t usually get involved with these types of things,” Laliberte said. “There’s been a lot of teamwork.”

St. Mary’s administrators said even tenants who tend to be crabby by nature had turned festive. Like Ebenezer Scrooge himself, they had been moved to holiday cheer by the relentless celebrating of their neighbors.

“It’s brought out the best in them,” said Celine Gibbings, administrative director at the facility.

Which is not to say there hasn’t been squabbling. A contest is a contest, and even older hearts rankle at the idea of unfair play. Morin said he’s had to mediate a few complaints here and there, including a couple accusations of stolen decorating concepts.

“We’re starting to get some feedback about that,” Morin said.

Mostly, though, the tenants said they were decorating because it brought about happy memories and because that’s just what you do around the holidays. Many were still putting on finishing touches Wednesday, not because of a contest, they said, but because the more they did, the more the spirit of the holidays seemed to rise within them.

“Everybody’s got a smile on their face,” said Paradis, putting together a holiday-themed jigsaw puzzle on the fifth floor, “Christmas is the best time of the year.”

Marie Doyon gets a hug from Larry Morin, director of residences, during the Christmas decorating contest at St. Mary’s Residences in Lewiston on Wednesday afternoon. Morin was one of the judges of the contest. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

 

Georgette Ayotte adjusts the star on top of the Christmas tree in the third floor lobby of St. Mary’s Residences in Lewiston as part of an annual Christmas decorating contest. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

Sally Dumont, right, puts a Christmas light necklace around Florence Turner’s neck on the third floor wing of St. Mary’s Residences in Lewiston on Wednesday afternoon. Georgette Ayotte is on the left. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)


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