One of my fondest Christmas memories didn't happen in December at all, but in the muggy New Orleans summer, an August back in 2007. I'd just locked up my bike outside of a popular bar, Mimi's in the Marigny, to meet some friends. But instead of heading in for a drink, they met me outside to take me a few houses down the block, to a woman's private home. Miss B's, they said. Christmas house, they said. There was no inkling of yuletide on the house's exterior, but after a tap on the door, we were ushered inside the shotgun, where two rooms were filled with vintage Christmas decor from floor to ceiling, and Miss B stood alongside her son, showing off every piece. It's been what, 30, 40 years she been doing this? her son said with the resolve of somebody who wanted it to end. Here bae, look at this bae, she said of everything.
There is something extremely endearing, mystical almost, about people who go all out for the holidays, especially when they keep the decorations up year-round, almost shrine-like in application. Then again, I am the daughter of a packrat. I do love a good collection.
So you can imagine how incredibly excited I was hearing about Bufkin Christmas Wonderland on Houston Public Media. Bufkin's is a private residence in Pasadena, just a 30 minute jaunt from Niko Niko's in Montrose — which is where I pre-gamed with the parental units of said packrattedness — before making the trip to the coolest Christmas house in the Houston area.
The Bufkin family has opened their house to guests for the past 25 years. They've also just announced that this will be their last year for tours. That being said, the line (and there will be a line) is filled with folks the Bufkins know, repeat visitors, groups from the Baptist Church, neighbors, teens, large families, all saying Make it 30, or we love this place, or get Tina, she just ran off.
Then you will notice, out the corner of your eye, a child hurdling her way over a small, illuminated fence, racing past the off-limits water skiing Santa and toward the nativity scene just beyond a drum line of toy soldiers, an older child chasing after her down. More kids gather at the mechanical Santa inside the house's entryway, protected by a glass door—the entire house isn't open to guests. It is but a child's dreamland here.
The tour starts in the train room—an incredible display that's worth the trip alone —which is why the line tends to wrap around the block, where a man in a camo vest with an orange light saber directs numerous pick-up trucks bigger than my actual apartment toward street parking. Beware the ditches.
In the train room, a wintery village plays host to the busy railroad. Tiny village people wave. Tiny village people shop. Tiny village people ski and see-saw and carol. Trains zip by. Down below, another little village inhabits a glass case. At the end of the room, Mr. Bufkin hands out candy canes and asks folks to sign the guestbook and shakes hands with visitors, saying things like, "Well look at you. I hardly recognized you. You're practically a man now."
The next room over, a small white dog wears a red sequined dress and hangs out in its dog bed, where kids conglomerate, asking if they can pet her. This is a sunroom and home to a wealth of collected oddities including old glass bottles, rusted meat grinders and ice tongs, but more importantly—enough Santas to shake a sugarplum at. Santa soaks his frost-bitten feet. Santa is naked in a washtub. Santa climbs a ladder. There's office space Santa, home improvement Santa, Mickey Mouse Santa. Cowboy Santa also does a funny dance.
Out back there are babies and old ladies in motorized people movers and generations of families posing for pictures in gazebos and a curving, long line for pictures with Santa ($4), who presides regally on a throne aside a very nice swimming pool. There are polar bears and teddy bears and wisemen and a windmill. Nativities and candy canes and Santa's sleigh and a pool gator. There are inflatables and the deflated, who have taken to a few benches—tweens on phones, mostly—waiting for their families to meet back up and head to the car.
Just down the street is a Starbucks, so you can stop in for a hot chocolate or gingerbread latte if you need to warm up on a chilly night. That's what we did, kicking back, the parental units very much enthused.
"They're collectors," my mother approved with a smile. It's a packrat's highest compliment.