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Holiday village replicates family experiences

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Spread across two tables in Pat Hassard's Chesterfield County living room is a Christmas village.

Its wintry scenes depict ice skaters on a frozen pond and sledders blazing down a hill, buildings with little twinkling lights covered in snow, and the all-too-familiar fight with Christmas lights.

For Hassard, the table isn't just a fun holiday centerpiece but rather a visual re-creation of special events from her family's life.

At one end, a figurine of a boy and his happy-go-lucky puppy represent the black Labrador they bought for their eldest son as a gift last year. An area of the table studded with tiny trees reminds Hassard of the farms they visit every year to find just the right Christmas tree.

And the ice skating figurines are a nod to Hassard's childhood days in New Jersey when she and her friends would seek the nearest frozen pond after school and lace up their skates.

They're also the catalyst for her village collection. Hassard has been collecting and displaying the village for nearly four decades. It started when her late mother gave her the ice skaters, which she originally purchased at Woolworth's for a dime or two.

Hassard said her mother's village was small by comparison, with only six or seven cardboard houses and the ice skaters, which she set atop a "pond," a mirror she took from her vanity.

But the joy of decorating that village was something Hassard said she and her brother looked forward to every year.

"We'd set it up with tiny little cardboard houses in our window seat in our house," Hassard said. As her parents got older and relocated around the country, Hassard said her mother handed down the village set to her.

From there, it grew.

"This didn't happen by design," she said, "but there are scenarios throughout the scenery that replicate experiences that we've had as a family."

One white building in her collection with large white columns looks like a bed-and-breakfast in Churchville that she and her family visited.

A town scene with a clock tower is reminiscent of a town in North Carolina they visited. A rabbi talking to a boy honors Hassard's father, who was Jewish.

Many of her pieces are from Department 56, a holiday collectibles company, but other pieces were added simply because they felt right.

"We all get into it," said Tom Hassard, whose main job, according to his wife, is to bring the items down from the attic, set up the tables and then illuminate the buildings when they're in position.

Hassard said she finds pieces here or there, often unexpectedly, or gets them as gifts. Her goal, she said, is to enclose her back porch eventually and use it during the winter for her village.

Just like her mother did for her, Hassard said the village will be passed down to her eldest son.

Although the scenes and the number of pieces in the village may have grown through the years, Hassard said the enjoyment, and her family's traditions with the village, all began with a few figurines from a five-and-dime store.

"This," Hassard said, pointing to the ice skaters and their mirrored pond, "is the centerpiece of all of this."

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