By B.C. Manion
As Pat Serio unwraps her Christmas decorations each year, she’s also unpacking memories of the people who have touched her life and the places she’s been.
The Lutz woman’s abiding affection for the season is on abundant display in the home she shares with her husband, Joe.
Her enthusiasm for the Christmas season began when she was quite young.
“I think I got it from my dad,” Serio said. “When we were kids, no one had artificial trees,” said the woman who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y.
She and her dad, Albert Bohn, would go out together to find the perfect tree.
“He would invariably choose a 15-foot tree for our 8-foot ceiling. We’d go through the whole process of my dad cutting the tree down to the proper height and my mom having fits about having sawdust in the house,” said the member of the Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club.
Once the tree was ready, she and her dad would make it sparkle.
“I would overdo with whatever I had,” Serio said.
Through the years, she amassed a huge collection of Christmas decorations to bring the season’s spirit to life in her home.
She picked them up during her travels, bought them locally, inherited them from relatives and received them as gifts from family and friends.
She has 30 Rubbermaid bins full of items, and decorations in other storage spaces, too.
“My husband thinks I’ve reached ‘hoarder’ status as far as Christmas goes,” Serio said with a laugh.
She does have decorations everywhere.
They’re on tabletops, windowsills, ledges, bookcases, counters, the refrigerator and the tree.
A visit to her home provides a distinct feeling of being in the presence of angels, which greet visitors from a ledge in her foyer, hang from a chandelier and on tables and countertops along with the tree.
They’re made of Italian marble, sculpted metal, crystal, porcelain, paper mache and other materials.
And, that’s just one of her collections.
She also has Santas, carolers, nutcrackers, gift-shaped cookie jars and Pinocchios.
She has roughly 20 Nativity scenes. Her favorite, which claims a place of honor on the dining room table, replicates the one on display at the Vatican in Rome.
“The figures are all dressed in Neapolitan costumes — very baroque and flamboyant as you can see. Look at all of the hand gestures,” Serio said. She collected the 18 figures over time, purchasing each one as it became available from the maker, Franklin Mint.
Another Nativity set of a much more humble design is also on display in the family’s conservatory at the other end of the house.
Arranging her massive collection is a gargantuan task, which takes more than two weeks to complete, Serio said.
“Each year my displays change. Things find themselves in different places,” Serio said said.
Expensive and delicate pieces share space with family heirlooms and handmade ornaments.
The tree is so loaded that Serio takes a break every couple of hours as she hangs her ornaments.
She finds herself pausing to reminisce about the people who gave them to her, or the places she picked them up.
Under the tree, there’s a Christmas stocking for Bailey, the family’s beloved beagle who died a few years back, but was a joy to them for 16 years.
Some of Serio’s ornaments are so fragile and valuable that she simply sets them out for show instead of hanging them on the tree. She doesn’t want to risk breakage.
She has expensive decorations, such Waterford crystal and Hummel figurines, but the ones that she treasures the most are the handmade ornaments from her daughter and grandchildren.
There’s a tin foil heart in a prominent spot on the tree this year. Her 12-year-old grandson, Jack Tucker, made that for Serio when he was in preschool.
There’s also a spray-painted wreath proudly displayed on the refrigerator door. Serio’s daughter, Lynn Tucker, made it for her mom, when she was a little girl.
Serio also treasures the decorations in her collection that came from her granddaughter, Paige; her husband, her son-in-law, John Tucker; and relatives and friends who have passed on.
Decorations around her home provide a glimpse into Serio’s international interests.
“I was an exchange student in Ecuador when I was young, and I was badly bitten by the travel bug,” Serio explained.
She and Joe have visited dozens of countries, beginning when they lived in Germany because Joe was stationed as an officer in the U.S.
That is where Serio began her angel collection, picking up a pair in Garmisch, Germany about 45 years ago. The angels came from the Black Forest, where the art of woodcarving is revered.
She’s also picked up souvenirs for her holiday display from Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Netherlands, Lichtenstein, Monaco, Spain, England, Mexico, Hawaii, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy, the Czech Republic, Greece, Turkey, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, China and Japan.
Serio enjoys the search for additions for her collection: “I like to hunt out things in the antique shops.”
The items she picks up are smaller these days, partly because she lacks the room to display them and partly because of recent airline baggage weight limits.
Serio’s display is so massive, it is obvious it takes considerable time and energy to put it up.
“It’s exhausting,” Serio said, acknowledging she sometimes wonders why she makes the effort each year.
“But then I remind myself that I have these wonderful family memories,” Serio added. “This is what I hope that my grandkids remember about me, and about us.”