Skip to main content

South Jordan Journal

Bingham principal decks the halls of his home with a Christmas Village

Dec 04, 2019 10:13AM ● By Julie Slama

With 80 buildings including a fire station, a 1950s diner, a roller-skating rink and a snowman water tower, Bingham High Principal Rodney Shaw’s Snow Village takes up most of one room during the holidays. (Rodney Shaw/Bingham High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

As a little boy, Rodney Shaw was always at his aunt’s house living on her grandfather’s farm, but those visits were even more frequent at Christmastime.

“My aunt was very arts oriented and meticulously decorated for everything, but Christmas was her forte, and everything was exceptionally beautiful,” he said about his aunt, Sandra Lloyd.

That’s the same Sandra N. Lloyd, Riverton’s first female mayor whose name graces the city’s community and cultural center after she supported purchasing the former Riverton Elementary School for its current use. She also hoped the former Crane Home that was donated would operate as a museum and art gallery it is today. She served as president of the Salt Lake Valley Conference of Mayors, was a member on the Utah Economic Development Corporation’s executive board as well as on the Utah League of Cities and Towns, and volunteered 40 years preparing about 1,500 young women for the Miss Riverton and Miss Utah pageants. 

But as a boy, the Bingham High principal only knew he loved sitting in front of his aunt’s Christmas village.

“Aunt Sandra’s house was a showcase at Christmas and decorated to the Nth degree,” he said. “She gave it her heart and soul. I fell in love, watched as she decorated and wanted to help. I loved how it made me feel. I pretended my house was one of the ones in her Christmas village.”

Now, Shaw’s own house has turned into one that may have rivaled his aunt’s.

“My Christmas village is bigger than hers, and I’ve always decorated full bore,” he said.

That means, every year, Shaw begins during the school’s fall break to unpack his basement and begin decorating seven full-size artificial Christmas trees that are 7 ½ feet to 10 feet.

“I don’t take them down decorated; I wrap everything in tissue paper,” he said.

Each tree has a theme. His favorite, a German theme tree, transforms time to Old-World Germany, decorated with cuckoo clocks from the Black Forest, glass ornaments and nutcrackers. Hidden in the branches, there’s even a pickle, tying into German folklore and tradition that the first child who finds the pickle on Christmas morning may receive a special gift or good luck for the following year.

Shaw has a 1950s retro shiny tree, dedicated to his grandparents, full of bright ornaments and tinsel. There are trees with themes of gingerbread, ski lodge, circus, hunting lodge and even one representing fairies and swamp creatures.

His decorations don’t look the same every year. Shaw said he rotates tree themes every year and even continues to add to them. This year, in an upstairs room, Shaw plans to add a red, green and silver theme and also has plans to decorate a planter window with ornaments he bought while visiting Austria this past summer. In his kitchen, he will put up nine small accented trees.

The last thing he sets up is his 80-house Snow Village, which takes up an entire room. He remembers his aunt giving him a house to start his village in 1993, about a dozen years before her death. Since then, Shaw purchased his houses for the village at the former department store, ZCMI, for $25. Now, he said, they range upward to $200. 

Looking closely, the village comes alive with children having a snowball fight on the church grounds while others are sledding on a nearby hill. A family is putting up lights and a fireman is rescuing a cat in a tree.

Once the village is in place, his decorating is completed, usually by Thanksgiving weekend in time to share it with family and friends. However, Shaw doesn’t decorate alone. Through the years, he has enlisted the help of his three children. Although this year, he said it will mostly fall on his son to help with the 30 or more hours of decorating.

“I’m kind of a perfectionist,” Shaw said. “He will put them on the tree and feel he is contributing, but then I’ll move them to where I want them. I think after 15 years, he’s onto me so he deliberately puts them in the wrong place, so I have to find them first.”

While Shaw has no time in the near future to stop decorating his home, he knows that his motive — “to make my children feel the magic as I did in my aunt’s home” — was reached and will live on.

“They all are interested in parts of the decorations and have called ‘dibs’ on some,” Shaw said. 

This year, Shaw admits he’s behind in decking the halls, as he just became Bingham’s principal in mid-September and has been spending more hours at school. 

However, in early November, Shaw said he would have his home ready before his office staff would come to visit for the holidays. Next year, he plans to open his winter wonderland to the school’s staff and faculty.

“I enjoy the way the house feels,” Shaw said. “I love the happy spirit of the season.”