YOUNGSTOWN — Anthony Worrellia calls his approach to telling the history of Christmas at the Arms Family Museum "an interpretive decorating style.”
Worrellia, the buildings and grounds superintendent at the museum, has spearheaded the “Memories of Christmas Past” display for the past 12 years. The museum serves as an architectural time capsule for the Mahoning Valley and was inhabited by the Arms Family from 1905-1960.
The family agreed to turn over the historic house to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.
The "Christmas Architect,” as his co-workers call him, decorates the Arms Family Museum into seven period rooms on the first floor in rare vintage Christmas decor ranging from the 1800s to the 1960s.
“We have no idea how Mrs. Arms decorated [for Christmas] through the years,” Worellia said.
Instead, Worrellia draws items from his personal collection and borrows pieces from other Christmas collectors in the area to create the spectacular display that has become a Valley tradition.
“It kind of started off with some staff members seeing my Christmas collection, and they kind of said, ‘Oh, how great it would be if you can share it with the community and throughout the museum,'’' the self-proclaimed "Christmas enthusiast" said.
During his first year, the display was viewed by 1,500 people. It's estimated 8,000 will enjoy the display this year. The museum uses the Christmas display as an opportunity to draw in out-of-town visitors.
“This year's overall theme is 'By the Fireside.' It's the place where we all share our Christmas stories and families and really decorate around the mantle,” Worrellia said.
In Worrellia’s experience, the display brings back fond memories for visitors and reminds them of their childhood.
“We've actually had folks that have told us it's a family tradition to come here now in our 12th year, and, you know, it could be an ornament, a candelabra, a style of the Christmas tree that we decorate, a Santa Claus — it brings all the memories back that they had as a child but with their parents and loved ones. We've had people cry coming through the exhibit,” he told Mahoning Matters.
Marianne Anderson has volunteered at the museum for 11 years and said she loves to see the people come through to enjoy the Christmas display.
“I think it gives them a sense of how Youngstown use to be. People come in here and just love the house," she said. "The house is just beautiful, and the decorations just add to it.”
The display is a year-round labor of love by Worrellia, museum staff and a group of volunteers. Their goal is to preserve difficult-to-find, vintage Christmas decor.
This year’s holiday spectacular features a 1900s German store display of a wool doll riding a dog sled made of lamb and goat fur, life-size honeycomb paper Santa Claus decorations from the 1920s, cardboard fireplaces from the 1950s and more. Even the lighting in each room is vintage.
One part of the display that remains the same each year is the gingerbread exhibit through a collaboration with Students Motivated by the Arts. Youngstown community members and local businesses submit a gingerbread house or take part in a gingerbread house workshop at the museum.
Additionally, Macy’s is sponsoring Sunday storytelling at Arms Family Museum each Sunday during the holiday season at 2 p.m. Storytellers range from community members, museum staff and book authors.
The display lasts through Jan. 5. Hours are noon to 4 p.m.Tuesdays through Sundays, and evening hours on Thursdays are from noon to 7 p.m. The museum will also be open on Monday Dec. 23rd from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. The museum will close on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day but will stay open on New Year’s Eve from noon to 7 p.m.