Shining Spirit

Kathy Marshall transforms her Glen Riddle family home into a special place where her children can return to celebrate a love of Christmas — and she shares the joy with guests and neighbors through her thoughtfully decorated house

Written by Kristen Hampshire  |  Photography by Grant L. Gursky

Holiday spirit is alive and contagious at the Marshall home in Glen Riddle, which transforms into a whimsical, childhood Christmas wonderland — a love and tradition attributed to Kathy’s family and in particular, her father. “For more than 15 years, we did Santa gigs across the Eastern Shore,” Marshall said, relating how the memories of those times with her sister, and cozy Christmas moments with her siblings and parents, are a treasure she is passing on to her own family. 

“Every year, when I pull out my decorations, it brings back memories, and I know where everything came from,” she said, adding that it takes about a week to decorate her home and that the project starts immediately after Halloween. 

Admittedly, she practices a lot of willpower to keep from turning on the exterior lights until November 15.

While both of her parents have passed, Marshall says they are the special reason for the highly decorated season at their home. It’s just what they do.

“Christmas explodes in my house,” Marshall laughed. And, in essence, she’s right. The front porch is North Pole-ready and adorned with candy-stripe ribbon on columns, whimsical holiday swag and a characteristic Santa’s mailbox, where neighborhood children drop in wish lists, which the Marshalls respond to in kind. Not a room goes undecorated, and nearly every detail of her coastal-inspired home is changed out to reflect the season. 

Paintings are replaced with Santa art, and an entire wall is filled with artwork inscribed with holiday sayings. The dining-room china cabinet becomes a glass-cased, lit display for a vast collection of Fabergé Santas, every one of them symbolizing a memory or experience. For example, her eldest daughter, Katie, has a Santa attorney; all three children have sports-themed Santas, and some Santas represent family vacations. “The children have taken some as they’ve moved along, but most remain in the house,” Marshall shared. 

Some years, Marshall will create vignettes with the Santas, thoughtfully placing them in arrangements throughout the home. Her favorite is the builder Santa. “The year after my father died, I found a Fabergé Santa called Mr. Fix-It, which is what we called my dad, so I got them for my mom to give to all six of us kids,” she said. 

Mr. Fix-It Santa stays year-round. 

As for the rest of the house, the kids’ bedrooms are decked out with Christmas bedding, and of course, a tree is placed in every space. Stockings for everyone, including the family’s two goldendoodles, Winnie and Lucy, are arranged along the mantle. The staircase is still where the Marshall children assemble before gift opening, even as adults — and yes, with matching jammies. “I’m really lucky that I can still get the Christmas-morning stairs picture, and when they have children, they’ll make their own traditions,” she related.

The dining-room ceiling is aglow with red-and-green-striped projected lighting, and even the kitchen stool covers are swapped for holiday fare — along with spritely elves stockings that hug the chair legs.  

The living-room Christmas tree is dressed up with ornaments the children receive every year — again, each a relic nod to a past moment in time. “My mother did this for me the year I got married. I received a package from her, and it was all of my personalized ornaments from my family’s trees,” Marshall shared, adding that she did the same for Katie when she got married. And the tradition will continue with daughter Molly and son Jack. 

Marshall loves that her home is where family returns to re-experience childhood Christmas memories and traditions. Some are silly, like jockeying for who will place the tree angel on top. Marshall maintains a list of who did it last year, but the playful jabbing continues. 

“My house will always look and feel like their childhoods — a nice place to visit their memories of growing up,” she said.

Marshall, who works at Kuhn’s Jewelers in Salisbury, is anticipating another special family holiday this year. The front porch, lit by Delmarva Christmas Lights, will once again cast a glow on a festively decorated home that is a symbol of simply taking pleasure in the season.  

According to Marshall, “Happiness is a choice, but Christmas makes it easier to choose it.” CS

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