By Kim Jansen
News Report Staff
Christmas decorations brighten up each room of the home of Bill and Becky Heiens, of Effingham.
Trees featuring different themes are scattered throughout the home, a holiday village fills the back porch and Santas greet visitors at the front door.
Although Becky Heiens loves collections and decorating her home for the season, her favorite collection is one that carries not only family memories, but reminds her of the true meaning of Christmas.
For the past 40 years, Becky has been collecting Fontanini figurines that allow her to recreate scenes from Bethlehem and depict what life was like at the time of Christ’s birth.
Her collection began when her husband purchased the Nativity set for her as a Christmas present the year their son was born.
From there, the collection has grown to include over 75 people, over 75 animals and several buildings, including the bakery, blacksmith shop, shepherds’ camp and wise men tents.
“Bill was the one who gave me the first pieces for Christmas, so he can’t complain. He started it,” she said with a laugh.
After receiving the Nativity, Becky along with her mother and sisters, would travel each year to Lady of the Snow in Belleville the day after Thanksgiving Day to shop for new pieces for the collection.
Each year, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Lady of the Snow would host Fontanini artists from Italy who would show new pieces and sign pieces for those who made purchases.
“It started out as a family affair and became a tradition,” said Becky. “We would go down each year and buy pieces for our collections.”
Becky said she was always drawn to Fontanini because each of the figurines are hand-painted and have lots of detail.
“The faces are so real and they are so detailed,” said Becky. “It is such an art. There is so much detail in each and every piece.”
Becky added that the figures are made of a high-quality polymer resin, making them very durable, meaning that children can admire and play with them without fear of damage.
“I have never seen a piece that has been damaged yet,” she said. “They don’t fade and you don’t have to worry about chipping because they are so durable.”
When setting up her collection each year, Becky starts with bases she created out of styrofoam insulation that she has layered and painted to look like sand and rocks.
From there, she adds the nativity set, followed by the shepherds, which are some of her favorite figurines.
“It is just fun to put those pieces out,” said Becky, adding she likes all the detail in the sheep and lambs.
Once all the buildings are out and the figures and animals are set in place, Becky uses sand, rock and straw as finishing touches.
“It makes a mess, but it gives the full effect,” she said.
Becky said it does take quite some time to create the scenes each year, but it is worth it.
“This is the first thing that I always put out,” she said. “It is a lot of hard work, but it is always the first thing people notice.”
She added she enjoys sitting in her living room and enjoying the season surrounded by her decorations.
“I really do it for myself,” she said. “I love sitting in here in the evening. I just enjoy it. It is calming and peaceful.”
The collection is displayed from the end of November until the end of January, and Becky admits that it is hard to put the set away each year.
“It is the life of Christ,” said Becky, who added she does keep some pieces out year round.