When it comes to home Christmas decorators, there are amateurs and there are professionals.
Eve O'Donald is a professional.
Ask an amateur how many lights have been strung upon the exterior of her house, and you'll get an exact number, as if numbers were the point.
O'Donald scratches her head and says, "Oh, my gosh, I have no idea. A lot."
Ask an amateur how much money she's spent over the years on decorations, and you'll get an exact figure, as if outbuying the neighbors is the point.
O'Donald rolls her eyes skyward and says, quite seriously, "Oh, I have absolutely no idea."
You see, this Payson woman does not turn her home into North Pole, Arizona for any reason other than this: "To see kids enjoy it. I love to see kids say, 'Hey! There's Santa! And look at all those lights!,'" O'Donald says.
But there's more to it than that. The inside of her house, too resembles a theme park dedicated to O'Donald's favorite holiday. Look in any nook or cranny and you'll find Santa Claus figurines, replicas of little snow-covered villages, nativity scenes, bows, ribbons, glassy bulbs, lights, and everything one could think of that represents the tide of Yule.
O'Donald was not only born and raised in the Valley, she's a third-generation Phoenician. "Christmas decorating was always a big thing in my family," she said. "My dad always decorated, and so did my mother. They just loved doing it, not to outdo anyone."
O'Donald didn't start pursuing Christmas decorating with a full-blown passion until her son Robert had grown up and left home. "Suddenly, I had a lot more time on my hands," she said.
Unfortunately for the envious, O'Donald is so focused on decorating that she has difficulty passing along tips on how to do it, mistakes to avoid, and how much of an investment might be required to duplicate her efforts.
In fact, one recent conversation with O'Donald on these topics went exactly like this:
Q: So, can you just take a wild guess about how much time you spend on this project every year?
"It takes a lot of time. In terms of hours ... I don't know. But take your time and go with whatever you think."
Q: Where are the best places in the Rim country to shop for decorations?
"Wherever I see something. I used to get my Santa (figurines) from a store called Heartstrings, which was owned by a friend of mine. (Heartstrings was located in the Swiss Village Shops, and after it closed, the space was used for the expansion of the Candle Factory.) A lot of the decorations I bought in the Valley at ... at ... oh, I can't think of the name of that store."
Q: Can you offer any tips on buying decorations?
A: "No. If I see it and like it, I go ahead and get it."
Q: How many Santa figurines do you own?
A: "Oh, my gosh. I couldn't even guess."
Q: Your tree looks surprisingly simple, considering all of the work you're doing with the house.
A: "It's not finished yet. That's why it looks simple."
Q: Have you ever made any mistakes you could warn us about?
A: "Oh, my gosh, yes. The first year we moved up here, I entered the Chamber of Commerce Christmas decorating contest ... and the night the judges were coming, the lights wouldn't stay on. The switch would stay in the off position, so I stuck a stick in it to hold it up. I had no idea it could have caused a fire. I had overloaded it."
Q: How many strings of lights did she have on that one outlet?
A: "Oh, my gosh, I have no idea."
Q: You won the Chamber's award several times, right?
A: "I'm not sure. I think I won it twice."
Q: For which years??
"Oh, gosh, no. I couldn't tell you. I don't pay that much attention to it. I just want people to enjoy it."
Q: Does you husband, Phillip, help you put up the decorations?
A: "No. I do it all myself. Except I have a friend who comes over to do the roof. I don't do roofs. I tell him how I want it done, and he does it for me. That's the smartest thing I've done."
Q: Do you play Christmas music outside to accompany your display?
A: "No. I don't want to bother any more people that I'm already bothering with all the lights."
Q: Do you have any other suggestions for people who might want to go all out in decorating their home for Christmas?
"Who? Me? No. Oh, wait. There is one thing. Always make sure all the light bulbs work before you string them up on your house. That will save a lot of time and headaches."
Q: Who is better at Christmas decorating? Men or women?
A: "Women, generally. But there was a retired man who lived near here, and his house was beautiful. I loved driving by there. One time I got out and told him that his was the most beautiful house up here. Everything was squared off and perfect. My house isn't perfect. I just decorate."
Spoken like a true professional.