We bought this grand old lady 13 years ago and established Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast the following spring. I love, love, love decorating for Christmas, but there’s no way I could do it all by myself! I so wanted to continue our Elves Weekend tradition – especially since it seems like COVID is trying to steal our health, our loved ones, our way of life, our joy. Our annual Elves Weekend started by necessity and has become a treasured tradition. Read more about the origin of Elves Weekend here, if you’d like.
Over the years, our Elves Weekend has become a “hot ticket” event, with several volunteering to participate each year. This year, COVID did a number on our regular routine, but, with adaptations, we were still able to make it happen for family members, Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast staff, and a couple of close friends. No grand announcement went out “Calling All Elves” this year. Masks, safety protocols and COVID tests were suddenly hot topics of discussion. But we did it! In one weekend – in one 24-hour period – four trees were decorated, three mantels were decorated, multiple nativities were placed, the table was set for the holidays, and we had a lot of fun!
Here’s how we decorate our house for Christmas:
Plan and Prepare
- I keep good records and pictures of previous décor, updating my lists throughout the year so that I am READY when Elves Week gets here.
- Expect the unexpected. COVID. Enough said.
- I block paying guests for the week. It really removes a lot of stress. This year there probably weren’t many to block, thanks to COVID.
- Set up staging areas. We pretty much have Christmas décor here, there and everywhere in the house. The upper foyer/hallway is a major staging area.
- Cover your tables with padded plastic tablecloths – this year, ours had snowmen on them!
- Gather your tools. From every size ladder we own, to scaffold to run between ladders, to trees, replacement lights, ornaments, ribbons, and picks, we try to have everything in place when the elves start decorating. Don’t forget extra ornament hangers, candle batteries, and that little light fixer gun to repair troublesome light strands.
- “Assign” tasks. Some of our lawn care employees come early in the week to set up and fluff Christmas trees and install our Original Snow Village Displays. I asked our photographer friend Justin Hurley to follow us around with his camera. Joanie and Jenni B. took pictures and created an Elves Weekend video.
Insider Tip: This year I spent one evening unpacking the large Snow Village pieces and lining them up on the dining room table to correspond with the way I wanted three finished displays to appear. It was easy-peasy to transfer them to the guy standing on the scaffold in the library the next day!
Make it a Party
- Provide food. Since it’s a sleepover, I always prepare breakfast on Saturday morning, but the only “pay” my decorator elves receive each year is for me to buy their dinner at Lonzerotti’s Italia Restaurant Friday night before we start decorating. Of course, this year things were very different. Although not locked down as tight as we are right now, Lonzo’s had just stopped indoor seating. So… we did the next best thing – Lonzo’s delivery and fine china in our dining room. It wasn’t the same, but the food was delicious and we still enjoyed our traditional kick-off to Elves Weekend. How can you bribe, I mean compensate, your elves?
- Have a relaxed approach. Decorate a while. Visit a while. Maybe even take a break and play a game or take a walk. Don’t get grouchy pressing everyone to have a fun time decorating!
Insider Tip: Lonzerotti’s currently offers Family Meal Deals for 4. These are terrific, and come with salads with their famous house-made salad dressing and fluffy bread sticks.
Plan an Activity
- My activity plan was to win a gingerbread house from the local radio station so the elves could help me decorate it while they were here. Thanks to my buddy Jan, we answered the jingle and the house was ours! However…
- Joanie & Jenni B. provided No Regrets Cookies cookie decorating kits for our elves. They were so much fun that we never got around to the gingerbread!
- It’s become part of our tradition to go Christmas shopping on Saturday afternoon. Elves Weekend was very early this year and we caught several local Christmas open houses!
- Although Jan often volunteers to prepare Saturday supper, this year we enjoyed “leftovers” from Lonzerotti’s. Their food is that good.
- Watch a Christmas movie. We start watching Christmas movies when things settle down on Saturday.
- Set up a “fancy” hot cocoa bar. We do it for our Christmas Traditions package, so I just started early. And to be truthful, I may go up and use it tonight!
Know Who’s On Your Decorating Team
- We were filming this year, and I know that Terry would sooner eat a bug than be interviewed on camera. However, Joanie and Jenni B. are on camera all the time, so they’re very comfortable with it.
- Kelly is our climber. She’s young. She’s tall. And she doesn’t complain about putting the angel on top. Of every tree!
- Glenn manages most of the decorating outdoors and tries hard to capture my vision.
- Lynsey spends time on the scaffold placing accessories around the Snow Village.
Don’t Focus on Perfection
- Enjoy the experience.
- Have a plan, share your plan, and work your plan.
- Don’t expect others to read your mind.
- Don’t let it become a burden that everyone has to do it perfectly to please you.
- Do it for the fun of it!
INSIDER TIP: Don’t take things personally. I was questioned about my ornament placement choices a couple of times, and it’s my house! Some people take this more seriously than others.
Let Others Shine
- You’ll shine, all right! I always say that I wear glitter from Elves Weekend until March!
- Rely on the talent and skills of your team. Kelly is a great one to recall how we like things set up and she can make it happen. (Plus she’s good at finding things in the attic!) She determined the Tranquility Suite décor style this year, and it looks fabulous!
- Although Vanessa was unable to come down from Chicago this year, due to COVID, she is typically in charge of the front parlor tree – the tree she worked on for 11 years! One year after she left I found a paper cone (Christmas tree) with yarn taped on in a diamond pattern – she had engineered the ribbon design for her tree using notebook paper and clear tape. You’ll see us pointing to the tree at the end of the new Elves video – we’re trying to trick her into thinking we messed up “her” tree!
- Joanie was new to the team this year, and she did an exceptional job decorating the Tranquility Suite tree. Then, the next day, she did an exceptional job decorating the Serenity Suite tree!
- Jan and Terry are my longtime friends. Sister friends. Both are hard workers, and they play well with others. One of my favorite parts of the 2020 Elves video is the three of us relaxing in the living room. Something got us tickled. That’s the kind of friends they are.
And that’s the way it should be. Friends and family working together to make the magic happen. Laughter. Joyful hearts. And a beautifully decorated home to share with others. Here’s a short Joanie & Jenni B. video they did to document their first experience at Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast Elves Weekend.
Photo Credit: Justin Hurley
About Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast
Experience a stay in our award-winning Jacksonville, Illinois Bed & Breakfast located in a magnificently restored 130-year-old mansion in the heart of the historic district. Pampered luxury is our goal, to delight both business and leisure travelers. We offer two upscale guest suites, each with private sitting rooms and private baths. Stay a couple of nights, or come for an extended stay. We provide multi-course gourmet breakfasts, 24/7 family-friendly hot and cold beverages and snacks, and cookies and milk at bedtime. Wi-Fi is available throughout our home and each suite has a digital satellite TV and all-season fireplace. We are located just steps away from Illinois College, the Governor Duncan Mansion and Illinois School for the Deaf and our neighborhood is highlighted on one of Jacksonville’s historic walking tours. Escape the standard hotel room and enjoy your own private suite in the finest Jacksonville Illinois lodging. We love it when our guests Book Direct!