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Christmas tree hobby branches out to include some 20 festooned firs

The first of the Christmas decorations went up early this year at Catherine Collins' Starin Avenue home, which would have been sometime in October.

It's no wonder, considering that Collins had around 20 artificial trees of varying heights and widths to set up and decorate in time for the season. Preparing for the project included sorting through boxes of decorations, unpacking hundreds of ornaments, as well as untangling, arranging and rearranging dozens of strings of Christmas tree lights. There are themed trees in every room of her house.

"This is my Mardi Gras tree," Collins said recently, as she ushered a guest into the dining room.

The 8-foot-tall tree is festooned with colorful Mardi Gras masks, beads and feathers, which is topped off with a dazzlingly feathered mask. Across the room is another elaborately decorated tree, equal in height, only white with dozens of angel ornaments that Collins, a former Buffalo School Board member, has collected over the years.

"I've been doing multiple trees like this for about five years," said Collins, who is an associate professor with Empire State College.

"Prior to that, I might have had two or three [trees], but it has kind of mushroomed, and I kind of collect things along the way," she added.

Aside from the trees in the dining room, there are two 8-foot-tall trees in the living room. One is decorated with ornaments depicting various species of birds. The other is loaded with red, white and blue ribbons and ornaments, several of which bear the likeness of President Obama.

Next to it is a 6-foot-tall cardboard cutout of the president. Collins persuaded several of her friends, including City Judge Jeanette E. Ogden, to pose with the cardboard figure, for Collins to photograph. She created ornaments from the photos and hung them on the tree. She planned to crown the tree with a White House topper, but it was too heavy.

Collins' tree-filled house has attracted a lot attention from friends and family, many of whom give her ornaments to add to her already vast collection.

"I've had open house twice. I had my family [over] today, and [other] people are still asking to come see the trees," she said.

Collins said she is already conjuring up new themes in her mind for next year's trees. This year, she added to her collection a butterfly-themed tree in one of the upstairs rooms.

Nine trees fill the family room in the basement, including one with fiber-optic lights and a "family tree" loaded with ornaments that feature photographs of her grandchildren and other relatives.

Collins said the festiveness of the trees remind her of the Christmases past when her working-class parents promised her and her siblings just one very special present each for Christmas.

"Dad just made it such a fun time and I knew how hard they worked to give us that one gift. So Christmas was always so special to us because of that," said Collins.

"Christmas, of course, is not just the things you give or get. It's all about the birth of our Christ, so we have to keep that in mind, as well," she added.

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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