What came first, the house or the Christmas collection?

For Gary Miller and husband Ralph Ostermann, it was the Christmas collection they had acquired over 16 years. So when they started house shopping, they knew a new home would have to have lots of places to display their ornaments and tableware, Santas and reindeer. They found the perfect house in the Foxcroft neighborhood.

The spacious rooms and a living room with soaring 23-foot ceilings to accommodate their 12-foot Christmas tree was perfect, as were the ledges to display their collectibles. They moved in last January.

"Since we were in a new house, we didn't know where everything went," Ostermann said. "That's why we started decorating in the middle of November. We wanted time to enjoy the decorations."

The massive Christmas tree is striking, decorated in red and gold with lots of jeweled dragonflies, butterflies and bird ornaments.

"It's an old-fashioned tree, very traditional," Ostermann said.

A ledge high on the wall on the right side of the living room provides space for their display of Santas.

"We call it Santa's playground for all the kids who come to the house," Miller said. 

On the ledge near the tall tree sits a gigantic Elf on the Shelf, ornament in hand, looking like he's reaching out to add that final touch to the Christmas tree. 

At the front of the living room is the dining room table centered with beautiful blooming red amaryllis and set with Christmas china and gold flatware sitting on red and gold place mats. Behind it is a sideboard, where five cats and dogs dressed in Victorian holiday attire hold court, while overhead dressed circus monkeys smile down from the chandelier.

"Our first piece of art was a painting of Beauty and the Beast," Ostermann said. "Because the animals in that painting are dressed, all animals in our displays have to have clothes."

All of the large windows in the home are draped in garlands with greenery, ribbon and large pine cones. Interspersed through the decorated rooms are Fitz and Floyd Christmas collectibles, including a large Santa sleigh with reindeer and a number of Santa plates. 

The decorations extend to the kitchen and sunroom with garlands on the windows and stars hanging from the ceiling. In the corner is a "Charlie Brown" tree, low on branches but filled with collectible ornaments. Above the kitchen cabinets is an extensive Department 56 Dickens Village and a choir of carolers.

"I like to pose the carolers," Ostermann said. "I move the hands and faces to make them like they are real."

Many of their ornaments were collected on trips.

"We have traveled all over the country," said Miller, who works at The Advocate. "We try to pick up something from every trip. As we put the things out, we reminisce."

Even the walls get a holiday look, with Christmas scenes collected over the years replacing the couple's usual art on display.

Miller and Ostermann, who works for the state Department of Corrections, enjoy entertaining during the holidays. They both love to cook and always have lots of holiday food. They usually host two parties — one for friends and neighbors and a second party for family.

"We have deep-rooted relationships with friends. They are our family," Miller said. "We enjoy sharing our home."

The decorations will stay up through New Year's Day and then will be carefully stored in the large walk-in attic. This year, they will take pictures of each display and will carefully pack and mark the boxes so it will be easier next year to put everything out.

"It is really a labor of love," Miller said, "but it is really a labor."