Oak Harbor woman has one Dickens of a Christmas village

— Created December 20, 2023 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Peggy Gibson loves the story of “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens. She believes her interest in it sprang from her love and enjoyment of old holiday movies, including “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “White Christmas” and “Miracle on 34th Street,” to name a few.

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly
Peggy Gibson stands in the middle of her collection of Department 56 Dickens’ Village pieces. Gibson has about 100 miniature houses and hundreds of other pieces that make up her Christmas village.

Gibson has put her love for Dickens’ classic tale on full display in her Oak Harbor home. Her collection of Department 56 Dickens’ Village series of miniature houses fills one room completely and spills over into another – and that’s not even her whole collection.

“Right now, I think there’s 97 houses out, but that doesn’t include the horses, the people, the trees, any of that,” she said during a private tour of the village last week. “If you were to add all those together, I’m going to estimate I have about 450 pieces.”

It’s a lot of pieces to put together every year and Gibson, who is 75, said this is likely the last year she’ll put the village out.

“What used to take me a couple of days to set up, now takes me about five days,” she said, admitting she only ever really set it all up for her family and friends.

“I do it for my own personal pleasure and my family,” she shared. “I think this year I did it because it’s probably going to be my last year decorating like this. When my family came up year before last and all my grandchildren and daughters were here, that was pleasurable and I really wanted to do it. This year I just pretty much did it for myself. And then after I did it for myself, I thought, ‘Why don’t I just have a holiday gathering and invite some people over?’”

Gibson, who has been collecting the houses for more than 30 years now, was kind enough to invite Whidbey Weekly over for a guided tour of the holiday village, where she shared the story of how her little village got started.

“I’m going to say I probably started in about 1989 when I got my first piece,” she said. “The only reason I say that is my mom and dad moved up here in 1987. My aunt was already up here. She was the one that got my mother interested in it and then mom started right off with me.”

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly
The buildings and people may be made of porcelain, but they make Peggy Gibson’s Department Dickens’ Village come to life. Gibson has a collection of nearly 100 houses and more than 450 pieces when figurines, accessories and trees are added.

The Department 56 miniature villages are highly collectible. Only a few new pieces are introduced to its various themed collections every year. Each piece is hand painted. After a few years in production, molds are broken and pieces are retired, adding to their collectability. Gibson keeps careful records of her collection.

“I keep an inventory of everything,” she said. “I list how much I paid for each piece, where I got it and how much it’s valued at when I do the inventory.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” Gibson continued. “My mother decided to give me some retired pieces, which got me started. One time I was going by this yard sale and here were some of the cars my husband collects, so I pulled over to check it out and here were these Department 56 Dickens’ Village pieces. She was only asking $10 for them with the boxes (which makes them more valuable). I looked at the lady and said, ‘Do you know what you have here? I don’t want to take advantage of you.’ She said, ‘Yeah, I’m getting rid of it because I’m getting a divorce and I don’t want it.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’ll take ‘em all.’ And just recently at a thrift store, there were hundreds of pieces – I think somebody had a store – so I had to buy some more. And then I bought some from a lady who just wasn’t putting hers up any more and she needed the money, so that’s how I’ve come across them. Most of mine have either been given to me or I’ve been blessed to find a good sale on it or something.”

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly

Gibson’s good fortune in finding her pieces has led to a very impressive display indeed. In the main room of her display, three long tables each hold three rows of village houses. There are cobblestone streets, trees and fluffy white snow. Each tiny home is lit up from within by an individual light, and arranged much as an English Victorian village might have been back in the day. Figurines help bring the miniature town to life as well, depicting characters engaged in various aspects of daily life, such as shopping, driving wagons, enjoying a drink or working.

“If you take your time to walk through it, it will walk you through the story of ‘A Christmas Carol,’” she said, beginning our tour of the fictional town, pointing out interesting homes and people. “This is where the story begins, in the rich part of town. This is Dursley Manor. You can see the train’s going through town right now, so you see the conductor, the guy loading the luggage and the people getting ready to get onto the train.”

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly

As the tour progresses, “visitors” head past the Christmas tree lot, past a farm and its animals, and over a bridge into the “poor” section of town.

“This is where Bob Cratchit lives; there’s Tiny Tim on his dad’s back,” Gibson noted. “Here this guy is putting out new straw. Now we come to downtown, which is the ‘better’ part of town, so you’ve got your surgery there, your quilting, antiques and music stores here. This is the coffee house. Why they’re sitting out in the cold having their coffee, I don’t know. I guess they know what the snow is like and they’re enjoying it!”

Kathy Reed/Whidbey Weekly

The village of course includes the home of Ebenezer Scrooge and the office of Scrooge and Marley. All of the ghosts of Christmas, as per Dickens’ tale, are there as well. Gibson’s favorite piece? Victoria Station.

“I love this piece, I think it’s gorgeous,” she said. “But I like them all. You have to really take your time to see it. And I have stayed true to the story.”

Gibson said if this truly proves to be the last year for her Dickens Village, her two daughters will get her collection, enabling them to carry on the family tradition.

Whatever holiday traditions your family holds dear, perhaps the Dickens’ character, Tiny Tim, sums it up the best: “God bless us, every one!”