For Norman Borne, Christmas starts in September.
That’s when he plans the outdoor display for his Kenilworth home, deciding where to place the hundreds of wooden figures he has crafted over the past 35 years and continues to make today to create his Christmas scenes.
“Everything is handmade,” said Borne, a CPA and chief financial officer for Notoco Industries.
The side yard and half of his front yard are devoted to a Christmas village with a miniature pet shop, ski shop, railroad ticket office, candy shop, church, Santa’s house, gingerbread house, town hall, police station, school, flower shop and firehouse.
In front of each little building are “residents,” including gingerbread men, elves, penguins and snowmen. The Toyland Express railroad runs through the little village, passing a group of snowmen skating in an ice rink.
Opposite the village is a life-sized Santa with nine reindeer, including Rudolph. The front walk is lined with candy canes leading to two tall nutcrackers guarding the front door.
His first decorations 35 years ago were a Santa holding his bag and 100 painted candy canes.
“Kids came by and stole everything,” Borne recalled. “For weeks after Christmas, the things got delivered back to my house.”
Over the years, the display grew to the point now that most of the front yard is filled.
“You don’t want one thing to block another,” he said. “But I try to add something every year.”
Borne begins the process of making the figures by preparing the wood with three coats of white exterior paint.
“If you don’t do a good job, the pieces won’t last too long,” he said.
In the early years, he traced pictures from coloring books or other sources. Now he orders patterns from the Winfield Collection catalog, which is filled with Christmas ideas.
He traces the patterns onto the painted wood, cuts out the figures with a jigsaw, sands the figures and then applies coats of colored paint.
The final step is to paint the figures with varnish to make them waterproof.
The entire display is lighted with what Borne estimates is 10,000 to 12,000 lights.
They sparkle in the giant oak, where lights are strung in lines to make a Christmas tree, and, in the backyard where Borne has illuminated a big angel with white lights for a “little religious touch,” he said.
The day after Thanksgiving, Borne and his wife, Lucille, and their three children, Eric, Melissa and Michelle, begin assembling the scenes.
“We try to lay out the yard in a different way each year,” he said.
Recently Borne began expanding beyond the confines of his own yard, decorating those of neighbors in his cul-de-sac. This year, he is using a Disney theme with Goofy, Daffy Duck, Pinocchio, the Chipmunks and Donald and Daisy Duck as well as scenes from “Beauty and the Beast,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Frozen” and “Toy Story” decking out the yards.
Borne leaves his display up for about a month and then stores the pieces in a shed in his backyard.
“The shed is pretty much maxed out,” he confessed, “but I still have space in the backyard. I have to figure something out.”
Borne grew up in St. James Parish, making Christmas Eve bonfires on the levee with his siblings.
“If we had a little aluminum Christmas tree in the house, we were lucky,” he said. “I always said that I wanted to do something better.”
His children were little when he started decorating the yard. “As the kids grew up, my yard grew up,” he said.
In one corner, he has a very old Santa with a list of the names of all the neighborhood children who came when he started his Christmas tradition.
Borne says he gets the biggest thrill when adults who came to the display as children bring their children and grandchildren during the holidays.
“The kids are in awe, but the parents are smiling. That’s what makes you want to do it again,” he said.