Most years, the flowers are still blooming when Kevin Milton starts his annual Christmas decorating regimen in early October. He starts with a black tree in his dining room, trimmed with pumpkins, bats and spooky ornaments.
By late November, the Halloween tree will have lots of company — elaborate themed Christmas trees everywhere that Milton can fit one, including the bathroom and stair landing — 42 in all, plus some 2-foot trees to conceal cords.
At 1,500 square feet, Milton’s south Minneapolis house is no McMansion. So 42 trees means 12 trees in the dining room and 11 in the living room, creating a wall-to-wall Christmas experience. It’s the way he likes it, and the way Christmas should be, in his opinion.
“People say, ‘I don’t have room to decorate for Christmas,’ ” Milton said. “You have room.”
All those trees require infrastructure updates. “Every year, I have the electric guy come back for more outlets,” Milton said.
And it’s not just the electricity that gets a workout during the run-up to Christmas. Milton continues his day job, in broadband sales, but his hobbies are put on hold while he spends hours every evening on his trees. He’s a drummer for a working band, the Roxbury Band, which plays casinos and other gigs — but not over the holidays.
“Even my band knows not to book around Christmas,” he said.
A Christmas person
Milton’s herculean decorating feat sets the stage for the open house that he and his husband, Bill Emery, host every year in early December.
“Bill does the food. I do the decorating. We stay out of each other’s world,” said Milton.
He considers the event “a gift to friends.”
“The open house is kind of like a funeral in that it’s the only time everyone sees everyone,” he said. “You have to have something more fun than a funeral.”
First-time guests are stunned by the Technicolor yuletide explosion that greets them.
“They come in, stop in the foyer, and wonder what’s going on,” he said. “Then I realize, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you. I’m one of those Christmas people.’ ”
Milton has been a Christmas person almost from birth.
“My first word was ‘lights,’ ” he said. “I’ve been doing this my whole life.”
Growing up on a farm in Canby, Minn., he remembers his mother loving Christmas ornaments and him loving to hang them. By age 12, he was trimming multiple trees in his family’s basement and inviting the neighbors over to see them.
After his family sold the farm, Milton donated a few dozen Christmas trees to the county museum, which displayed them for a fundraiser. But when the museum moved, there wasn’t room for the trees, so Milton donated them to a nonprofit in Minneapolis, which also used them for a fundraiser until its building was sold.
By then, Milton and Emery had bought their house, so Milton decided to take back the trees and display them at home.
Every year, he tweaks the display.
“I redo it a little. Just like at an office, I do a yearly review,” he said, which involves writing an assessment of each tree and what he wants to add or change next holiday season.
His “fishing tree,” for example, which is decorated with lures, netting and fish-shaped lights, had to up its game after a less-than-stellar review.
“I’ve redone it twice, trying to get it right,” he said. “I try to challenge myself.”
The themes for the trees range from comical and whimsical to elegant and traditional. There’s a Coca-Cola tree, a State Fair tree, a “retirement tree,” a rainbow-hued Pride tree and an Elvis tree trimmed with tiny replicas of the singer and old 45-rpm records cut in half.
“It’s purple, so it’s a tip of the hat to Prince, too, although Prince didn’t celebrate Christmas because he was a Jehovah’s Witness,” Milton said.
Some trees are inspired by things he holds near and dear, like the “dog tree,” draped with leashes for garland and trimmed with ornaments resembling the couple’s Bernese Mountain Dog, Maximus.
He also borrows ideas from the pros.
“I go to the Bachman’s Holiday Ideas House religiously,” Milton said. “I try to take Bachman’s themes and reconfigure or re-imagine them.”
His “champagne tree,” for example, is a narrow “pencil tree” with champagne-hued needles and bronze-tone ornaments. “It’s a Bachman’s idea — with a Walmart approach,” he said.
Milton hunts for bargains, regularly shopping post-holiday sales.
“The day after Christmas, we get up early every year and go to five or six places,” he said. His annual reviews of each tree allow him to zero in on what to buy. “It helps corral spending, to have a plan.”
Sometimes he finds ideas while traveling, such as the blue-and-white ornaments on his Delft tree that he spotted on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. “I have to think about Christmas year-round,” he said.
But it’s a duty he enjoys.
“It’s a release,” he said. “A totally different thing” from his day job. “I shut off the world and just think of past Christmases and how I can make it better each season. It’s fun. I’d never do it if it was a chore.”
He’d even like to develop “a support group of Christmas people” to network and share ideas and resources.
After Christmas, Milton stores his trees, wrapped in chicken wire, many still decorated, in the couple’s basement.
And their home goes back to normal.
Emery has adjusted to his husband’s fondness for holiday overload. He’s even contributed vintage ornaments from his own collection. But by January, he’s ready to move on.
“I’m used to it, but it’s kind of nice when it’s put away,” said Emery. “The house sort of breathes again.”
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784 @Stribkimpalmer
This year’s open house will be 3-8 p.m. Dec. 8; if you would like to attend and see the Christmas trees, e-mail Milton at email@example.com.)