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Museum alive with sights of Christmas

Merced County Courthouse Museum is one of Merced's architectual crown jewels and there is no time of the year when that is more evident than Christmas. Every December the stately 1875 Italianate structure gleams like a gem in its transformation into a seasonal wonderland.

Within its 8,500 square feet of space are a forest of evergreen trees sparkling with lights and ornaments that can be seen Sunday through Dec. 30. On Sunday, the melodic sounds and smells Christmas will be added to the cache during the annual open house at the Courthouse Museum.

"My favorite part of Christmas at the Courthouse is meeting and seeing all the people, young and old, who come to celebrate the season with us here at the museum," director Sarah Lim said. "Community participation is the highlight of this event. Without them, it couldn't be a tree display. Without the donation of food and live music, the open house would not be as entertaining. Their participations exemplify the spirit of sharing."

Forty-five distinctive trees represent as many local organizations with humor and flair as they exhibit themes from Christmas traditions, pets, fruits and patriotism, to education, poetry, art and family history.

The Bear Creek Inn's tree is unique with the addition of a lifesize Nutcracker standing guard over branches laden with handmade straw ornaments, wooden bears and clothespin nutcrackers.

"It promotes Bear Creek Inn, a bed and breakfast place, as a home away from home," Lim said.

It's easy to pick out the Red Hats' tree with its whimsical red and purple hats and ladies of a bygone era, and it's not hard to link the tree decked with old photographs to the Merced County Genealogical Society.

St Paul Lutheran Preschool features ornaments made out of Popsicle sticks and paper cut-outs of stars and Jesus while the Merced County Courthouse Museum celebrates volunteerism with its tree trimmed with pictures of more than 60 museum volunteers.

In addition to filling museum displays with glittering Christmas trees, the museum will also feature a perennial favorite.

"Beverly Evans and her 14-year-old grandson will again showcase their winter village," Lim said. "It is a display of miniature townspeople, sparkling lights, darling figurines, and beautiful scenery celebrating winter and Christmas."

It's a tradition that started a decade ago in Evans home.

"(We) have been setting up the Winter Village ever since he was 4 years old," Evans said. "There were only about six or seven pieces then and when he would come to visit, I would allow him to carefully play with the little figurines. Even at that young age he had a good eye on how to place the pieces artistically, so we became a team and now it is a yearly tradition we both look forward to."

Evans has loved miniatures ever since she was a little girl.

"Over the years family members and friends have given me gifts of the various buildings and figurines," she said. "Some of the pieces are from relatives who are no longer here, so have much sentimental value to me. And, of course, I snatch up the Lemax items at Michaels craft shop when they're on sale, but maybe I'll slow down now that it has grown so large, but maybe not. This is such a fun, fascinating hobby."

The Christmas Open House at the Courthouse Museum is Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. The event is free to the public and everyone is welcome, Lim said.

Guests will be treated to traditional Courthouse eggnog, cookies, Starbucks coffee and a bevy of musical performances.

See the display

WHAT: Christmas Open House at the Courthouse Museum

WHEN: Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.

WHERE: Merced County Courthouse Museum, 21st and N streets, Merced.

ADMISSION: Free to the public.

EXTENSION: The museum will be open Monday through Friday mornings throughout December for walk-through tours. For more information, contact Sarah Lim at 209-723-2401.