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Trees top his list of how to celebrate

CATHEYS VALLEY -- Many people go all out for the holidays, especially in decorating the traditional Christmas tree.

Rich Westfall has 24 Christmas trees in his festive rural home.

All the trees interspersed throughout his two-story home have a distinct theme. Even though he was born on Halloween, Christmas is Westfall's favorite holiday.

The decoration process begins in October and winds up early in December, just in time for a succession of yuletide parties.

"It's just fun," Westfall said. "I'm a very traditional person and this brings everything home. I get a lot of help from my family. It takes six to eight weeks to get everything done."

A district manager for Italian chocolatier Ferrero Rocher, Westfall favors two 10-foot trees in his living room, which are embellished with angel ornaments and the holy family. Three miniature nativity scenes are positioned around the trees.

Nearby is what he calls the "nature tree," a whimsical tree decorated with birds, butterflies, flowers and turkey feathers gathered from his yard.

All of Westfall's Christmas trees glitter with white lights, his preference. He has been decorating the home in earnest for the past 10 years. It takes about a month to take all the fragile decorations down and carefully store them for the next year.

"So many family members and friends get together to celebrate Christmas," Westfall said. "We have parties every weekend in December. I love to share them with people, too. It warms your heart."

Westfall's favorite room is his library. It has a patriotic tree with flag garlands, political campaign buttons and a series of White House and Capitol building ornaments, miniature Uncle Sams and elephants. Older campaign buttons were a gift from his uncle, Jim Westfall.

Westfall is chairman of the Mariposa County Republican Party, so you won't find any donkey ornaments on the tree.

The library has a Masonic tree as well since Westfall is a 32nd degree Mason and past patron of Eastern Star, Yosemite Gateway Chapter 126. Westfall family members have been Masons for many generations and a picture of his great-great-great-grandfather in his Knights Templar uniform is featured in the library.

Trent Williams of Mariposa has known Westfall all his life. Williams started a home tour for the Mariposa Friends of the Library 20 years ago, and Westfall's home has been included three times, including this year. The home tour this year raised $2,000 for the library group.

"I'm very proud of him," Williams said. "He's getting better all the time. It's better than going to Nordstrom's or Neiman-Marcus. It's such a gift to the community."

Understandably, Westfall collects nutcrackers. He has several hundred of them, the smaller ones of which share space around a Christmas tree festooned with ornaments showing the family crest. There also are replicas of Hedingham castle in Essex, England.

"Please don't give me any more nutcrackers," Westfall jokes.

No room in the Westfall home escapes from decorated Christmas trees. The laundry room features one called the "North Pole Laundry." Hanging from its branches are miniature washboards, clothespins, socks and other clothes.

Westfall shares the 1979-vintage home with his mother, Linda Westfall. In her room, there's a 7-foot tree with Hallmark ornaments she's been collecting for 50 years.

In that room there are also two small trees featuring jewelry, including vintage necklaces and pendants, accented with festive garland.

A 6-foot tree in a guest room has a Victorian theme: Lace garland winds its way among Victorian dolls and bows that belonged to his grandmother. A 3-foot tree sitting on a Victorian dresser features pearls, porcelain doll ornaments and more lace garland.

In the living room, there are two Christmas trees covered with vintage toys, including tiny cars, bikes, trains, teddy bears and tinker toys. In front of the toy trees is a rusted 1930s bicycle that once belonged to his great aunt.

Illustrating the variety encountered during a visit to the Westfall home is a 2-foot tree adorned with neckties that belonged to his grandfather and accented with cuff links and tie tacs. It sits on top of an old cedar chest.

In an office alcove is a 5-foot tree with a Hawaiian motif, with a grass skirt draped around the base.

Westfall said many of the trees are changed each year, but the nativity scene stays the same.

Westfall's aunt, Judie Huffman, lives nearby. She designed the North Pole Laundry tree and the family heritage tree. She decorated about seven of the trees in the home.

"I enjoy creating things," said Huffman, a former home economics and sewing teacher. "It's fun to share these with other people, and it's quite a spectacular Christmas display. The true meaning of Christmas is the overriding theme."

As a nod to the 1960s, Westfall has a 3-foot aluminum tree decorated with red bells. He regrets throwing out the color wheel that went with that tree.

In the home's entryway is a Christmas tree filled with Santa Claus ornaments, from traditional to those showing the jolly old elf fishing, flying a plane and as a firefighter.

In an upstairs sitting room is the birthday tree, heralding Westfall's 50th birthday in October. It features decorations from his birthday party and pictures taken at various points of his life.

Another Westfall Christmas tree features his collection of Christopher Radko ornaments, and a china cabinet next to the tree holds Radko, Waterford and Lenox ornaments, some of his most cherished possessions.

Nearby are two crystal trees displaying silver, crystal and glass ornaments. There are Waterford and Gorham crystal as well as Reed & Barton silver bells.

Then there's a 6-foot tree with turquoise and brown ornaments. "It has no special significance," Westfall said. "It's just nice, that's all."

Next year, Westfall said his sister will create a sewing tree decorated with thimbles, buttons and fabric.

From February to October, Westfall said, he starts thinking about the next round of decorations.

"For the rest of the year, I go back to normal, so to speak," Westfall said.

Just don't bring him more nutcrackers or Christmas might come early.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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