By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, December 2007
Handmade creation and
family rituals color Christmas for Ferndale family
It’s easy to picture Brendan Gair tinkering away in Santa’s
workshop — though he’d tower over the other busy elves.
He certainly has the right combination of artistry,
skills and Christmas spirit for the job.
For 13 years this plant manager at
Bellingham’s Maax Hydroswirl has created
bigger-than-life-size likenesses of his favorite
Christmas cartoon characters to adorn the festively lit
yard of his family’s Ferndale home.
Brendan, 45 and his wife Traci, 44, a shipping and receiving
clerk at Haggen, have lived in their ranch-style home
since 1991, where they’ve raised daughter Stephanie, 19,
and son Tristan, 17.
Christmas is a favorite season for them all, celebrated with
lovingly handcrafted holiday decorations, baked goods
galore, and some unusual holiday rituals.
Kris Kringle customs are central to the celebration. The
family cherishes collections, from hand-stitched Advent
calendars and stockings to dozens of German nutcrackers
gathered atop the family’s piano and incense-holding
smokers in Santa’s likeness lining the fireplace mantel.
Traci resorts to inventive tricks for concealing which gifts
under the noble fir belong to Stephanie and which are
earmarked for Tristan. It’s an elaborate game the kids
“The first year was movie stars and cartoon characters,” says
Tristan. One child’s gifts were addressed to Cary Grant,
for instance, but they didn’t know which one. Traci has
devised puzzles using cities and countries, among other
“And it gets harder and harder,” Tristan continues.
Last year Traci attached individual children’s foam bathtub
letters to each package, and both kids had words they
need to unscramble.
The Gairs are fans of Christmas films and cartoons, which
play a central part in their holiday hoopla. “Rudolph,
Frosty, and the Grinch were the big ones, and now I have
them all on
“I’m also an old movie buff,” he says. “We watch all the
standards as a family: “Miracle on
Street,” “White Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” — I
know it’s a bit overdone, but we watch it every year.”
Brendan’s favorite growing up in
was “Scrooge” with Alastair Sim from 1951. “We used to
watch it on BBC every Christmas morning.”
For all the festivity inside the Gair holiday home, it’s the
outdoor décor that first grabs guests’ attention and
compels complete strangers to stop and ask if their
children can pose for photos on the lawn. The home has
likely appeared on innumerable local holiday photo
Everything goes up shortly after Thanksgiving. “If the kids
could haul me out there right after we eat turkey, they
would,” Brendan says with a smile.
With upwards of 90 strings of lights put to task —Brendan
estimates it’s nearly 10,000 lights total — you can bet
the electric bill takes a hit. “But it’s so fun, it’s
worth it,” he says.
Brendan’s warm-weather hobby is landscaping, evident in his
meticulous lawn. Lighted bushes, trees, and fences
encircling the home form the backdrop for a sparkling
light show on par with the best jaw-dropping displays
But the cartoon characters push Brendan’s landscape to
another level. Each creation is instantly familiar to
anyone who’s been to
Disneyland or watched the traditional televised
Christmas specials in annual rotation since the
mid-1960s, like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “Rudolph
The Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
“I must have done my first one in 1992 or 1993, the first or
second year we lived here,” Brendan recalls, looking
across his vast, glowing landscape. “I did Frosty off
the video box, and then I started doing one every year.”
A Norman Rockwell-inspired Santa is bolted to the chimney on
the roof. “He’s a pain to install,” says Brendan,
“because he’s about 85 pounds and I have to walk on the
shake roof with him.”
“He used to wave,” says Traci, laughing.
“Yeah, I had a barbecue rotisserie out there” to move Santa’s
arm, remembers Brendan.
Joining Frosty on the spacious lawn is the Grinch, the
Peanuts gang, The Bumble (aka. the Abominable Snow
Monster of the North) towering over a diminutive Hermey
the Misfit Elf and Rudolph, Mickey and Minnie Mouse in a
sleigh pulled by Pluto, and the Seven Dwarfs, among
others. Brendan also dreamed up a lighted Christmas
wreath and a nutcracker standing at attention between
two lofty candy canes in the side yard.
Building each plywood design is a time-consuming endeavor.
Brendan draws inspiration from the front of
VHS boxes, Christmas cards, coloring books, even TV
Guide. He chooses an image, then draws a 1/2-inch grid
over the top of the original.
“I transfer the grid (in pencil) to six inches per foot onto
a piece of 3/4-inch plywood and use a fine blade on my
scroll saw to cut the whole thing out,” Brendan
He then hand draws the design onto the plywood using the grid
as a guide, cuts the outline and paints the piece with
hand-mixed acrylic paints. To finish he attaches fence
posts on the back.
Each one takes about a week of post-workday evenings, working
four or five hours a night. But it’s clearly a labor of
love for Brendan. “I did a lot of art in high school,
but then I never really pursued it,” he says. “So this
is my creative outlet.”
Brendan has now made 11 or 12 total (he’s lost count), having
devised some for friends and family. “I did a Grinch in
a chimney from the video box for a friend in Snohomish,”
he recounts. “And I did a Winnie the Pooh and Piglet
carrying a stack of gifts about 8 feet high for my
It’s fun for Brendan, Traci, Stephanie and Tristan, but also
a blast for area children of all ages. Spreading cheer
to the kids whose parents drive them by each year is
part of the family’s love of the holidays.
“That’s what I did when I was a kid,” Brendan says. “We
didn’t have a lot of dough, so we did stuff like this
Brendan and Traci are nostalgic for the way things used
to be, when more cars full of spectators wheeled by
their entrancing light show. “Ten years ago, cars would
come in solid and out solid, all the way through the
development,” says Brendan. “Buses came through.”
neighbor had strobe lights and music; another’s yard
showcased a cascading waterfall in bright blue. “It was
nuts,” says Brendan appreciatively, “You could see it
think Whatcom County has just gotten so broad that there
are different lights to see in lots of places,” says
“It’s not quite the way it used to be,” Brendan agrees,
“but people still stop and say ‘hi’ and that they love
As if on cue, a car drives by slowly and rolls to a stop,
The driver calls out to Brendan, standing on his lit-up lawn.
“My kids love coming by your house every year,” she
yells. “You do an awesome job!”
“Thanks, I appreciate it,” Brendan says with a big smile. The
car continues on.
“That’s the fun part,” he says with a satisfied smile.
“You’re out walking the dog and a kid comes by and the
window is down and their eyes are like dinner plates.”
Stacee Sledge is a
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