If there was an award for Christmas decorations inside a home, Father Bill’s residence in Hermann, Mo., would win hands-down.
The Rev. William Debo lives in the rectory adjoining St. George Catholic Church, whose bell tower stands high above this quaint river town in the hills of the Missouri River Valley.
Every Christmas, the 21 rooms inside the three-story red brick building are decorated, top to bottom, in a prodigious labor of love by a group of dedicated town residents.
There are no prancing reindeer, no animated Santas, no overbearing music. Each decoration is carefully planned, and artfully executed. The visitors who go through on tours are overwhelmed by twinkling lights, pine boughs and trees, and vintage ornaments, carolers and manger scenes. There are 31 trees, all seven feet or taller, this year.
With a core group of some 20 volunteers, the decorating starts in mid-October. The house opened to the public on Dec. 1, and bus tours have been nearly non-stop since then.
Tours are free, but donations are welcomed. The event raised some $10,000 last year; the money was distributed to the needy by Hermann area churches. Tours are by appointment; call 573-486-2723.
The Franciscan Friars served St. George Parish until 2002, when Father Bill was appointed the first diocesan priest for the parish. He brought with him his art degree and Christmas spirit. This is his 10th year decorating the rectory.
Several of the decorated rooms have themes. The dining room is all white and silver with poinsettias, a tiered cake and seven donated dresses on forms, representing a vintage wedding. There’s a Mardi Gras room with masks, beads and clowns; a Wizard of Oz room with Father Bill’s collection of memorabilia; and a military room decorated with uniforms, helmets, medals and photos of soldiers, young and old.
The attic features Santa’s workshop, with a seated Mr. and Mrs. Claus taking a well-deserved rest. The basement wine cellar, decorated for the first time this year, showcases tiny white lights and pine boughs hanging from the pipes and rafters. Hermann is in the middle of Missouri’s wine country, and the wine racks are full of local vintages received as gifts.
The display stays up through mid-January, when the volunteers start breaking it down and storing it all in the attic until next year.
Written by Tom Uhlenbrock, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks.