In Cranberry, Carol Johnson's whole house has the holiday spirit


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Considering her first name, it's no wonder Carol Johnson loves Christmas.

You can see that love in her three sons, seven grandchildren and in her house, where 10 artificial trees in 10 rooms each have a different theme. The house is one of eight open Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m. for the Cranberry Women's Club Christmas House Tour. The houses range from one built in the mid-1800s to the Johnsons', which was built last year.

Cranberry Women's Club Christmas House Tour

When: 4-8 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $20 each, available by calling 724-772-8904.

Information: www.cranberrywomensclub.org.

Gerald Johnson, Carol's husband, has been a contractor for 40 years. When he built this 5,000-square-foot house with four bedrooms, a bonus room and a large family room, he knew she would fill it up with Christmas. She always has, no matter where she's lived.

As a girl in Hamden, Conn., she remembers sitting on Santa's lap in a department store in New Haven. She has a photo of it, mixed with ones of her grandchildren doing the same, on a table in the family room. A 12-foot tree fills one corner of the bright room with arched windows and a coffered ceiling. All seven grandchildren's names are on Santa's list -- nice, of course. A stained-glass Nativity scene made by Mr. Johnson fills one table. On another in the kitchen is a small tree whose theme is cooking and baking.

Some of the themed rooms are based on collections, such as snowmen in the upstairs bonus room, Annalee dolls in a guest bedroom, White House ornaments in the study and Possible Dream Santas in the front hall. But it is the rooms dedicated to Mrs. Johnson's family that are the most meaningful.

There's a small tree filled with 30 photos of the grandchildren at various ages in one bedroom. And then there's the Swedish room.

A photo of her grandparents, Emil and Axelia Munson, rests on a side table. They're surrounded by Swedish Santas, elfin creatures that resemble gnomes more than they do the jolly man in red. They are carved in wood, printed on pillows, and stitched onto banners and runners along with the greeting "God Jul," Swedish for Merry Christmas.

Mrs. Johnson made all of them on her Swedish sewing machine, by Husqvarna (yes, they also make tractors and lawn equipment). She learned to sew and quilt from another grandmother, on her father's side, May Reutenauer.

"She was my inspiration," Mrs. Johnson said.

Germans are famous for their love of Christmas, too. Combine that with a crafty gene, and you get a woman who puts a handmade touch on any holiday. There was no craft room on the house's original plans, so Mr. Johnson added a "family studio" from another plan. It's now one of her favorite rooms, the place where she teaches her grandchildren how to cook (they pretend they're on a cooking show with the fridge as the TV camera) and how to make crafts of all kinds.

"She loves it out there," says her husband.

Her sewing skills are also on display in the basement game room. The Clemson tree honoring her husband's alma mater has a skirt stitched in orange and purple, and a small tree with tiny wine glasses and other drinks hanging upon it has a matching skirt listing drink recipes.

At the base of the Clemson tree is the model train Mr. Johnson always wanted as a boy and moving figures of a boy and girl like the ones Mrs. Johnson remembers from the department store windows of her childhood. On a table nearby is another collection -- 20 Dickens Village buildings by Department 56, including six of the original seven shops that started the collection in 1984.

How does she get it all done? Mrs. Johnson started earlier than ever this year, mid-September because of the house tour. When the family was living in northern Virginia, she and her middle son Eric would start the morning after Halloween.

"He would wake up at 4 a.m.," she said, laughing. "He was my go-getter."

Now living in Richmond, Eric Johnson, 35, still loves decorating for Christmas. So do his brothers, Mike, 38, and Russell, 32. Their wives all start decorating before Thanksgiving.

And their children?

Grandma Carol's Christmas spirit fills their hearts, and God Jul is stitched into their souls.

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Kevin Kirkland: kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.


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