MANSFIELD – More than 30 themed Christmas trees, among other decorations, will be brought to life inside the Herlihy Christmas House this December.
The private home, owned by Terri Herlihy, is open to the public every other year, falling on odd-numbered years.
Four new trees added since 2021 open house
Members of the public were most recently welcomed to see the Christmas house, at 170 W. Second St., in 2021 following unprecedented times during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our crowd wasn’t like it used to be,” she said. “(The crowd) was way down, but hopefully this year it will be back to full potential.”
Four new trees have been added to this year’s collection, including one inspired by Herlihy family vacations.
“Whenever we go on vacation I get at least one ornament,” Herlihy said. “Our family tree was getting way too full, so now we have a separate vacation tree.”
Sharing tradition with families around the area
Witnessing families from near and far come and enjoy the decorations is a rewarding experience, Herlihy said.
“It’s really cool to see the amount of families that come year after year,” she said. “Hearing that it’s been part of their (family’s) traditions is what’s so cool, to make ours part of theirs.”
Herlihy said getting to share the tradition with her daughter, Katelyn Bednarz, is a special experience.
“She has always known it while growing up,” she said. “Sometimes she likes it, sometimes she doesn’t, but once it’s all done, it’s great. It brings joy to so many people.”
Bednarz, a sophomore at Ontario High School, said her favorite part is seeing the reaction on children’s faces as they walk through the house.
“I like seeing their faces light-up,” she said. “It makes it all worth it.”
An undertaking of this magnitude can require the help of several people, including longtime friend Olivia Laux.
Laux, a sophomore at St. Peter’s, said she’s been helping decorate for as long as she can remember.
“I just love Christmas in general,” she said. “It puts me in the spirit every time I come over here.”
For years, Herlihy said Laux has been asking for a candy-themed Christmas tree. This year’s collection will include such a tree, inspired by her love for sweets.
“She just absolutely loves candy,” Herlihy said. “This year we have a candy tree for Olivia. It actually turned out pretty cute.”
Herlihy Christmas House history
The history of the Herlihy Christmas House, available online, details how the tradition developed to the large-scale endeavor it is today.
In December of 1987, Herlihy’s father and mother Sharon were approached by the Mansfield Symphony Guild and asked to be part of the holiday parade of homes.
Herlihy said her father had her and her mother venture around to other participants in the parade of homes, where they found an array of beautiful houses, but a lack of Christmas spirit.
“We were the only (home) that was really a Christmas house,” she said. “The next year, he (Paul) decided we could just do this on our own.”
The following year, the family was asked by the Richland County Dog Pound to consider taking donations to benefit the spay-neuter program.
“Dad started coming up with different charities that we would give donations to,” Herlihy said. “It just kind of kept growing.”
Increased demand sparks Christmas additions
The Mansfield-Richland County Convention and Visitors Bureau provided transportation in 1996 and brought visitors to the Christmas home by the bus-load. It became clear the house itself would need to expand along with the growing demand.
“All the remodeling my dad did in this house was for Christmas,” Herlihy said. “He kept making rooms bigger and adding on more rooms, so he could do more Christmas.”
In November of 1999, Herlihy’s father passed away following a long battle with cancer. In 2003, she purchased the family home, moved in, and decided to carry on her father’s tradition.
“The first year we did an open house we had 17 trees,” she said. “We thought that was crazy, but now we’re up to like 35 trees. It’s grown a little.”
A memorial tree is also decorated to honor every family served by the Herlihy Funeral Home throughout the past year.
“We focus on memories and talking about your loved one,” Herlihy said. “It can maybe give a little relief and help getting through the holiday season, which is the hardest after you’ve lost somebody.”
When to plan your trip and donation information
This year’s Herlihy Christmas Open House will run Dec. 7 to 10 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Visitors are asked for a minimum donation of $2 per person, which will be distributed between local animal shelters and the Miss Ohio scholarship program.
“The Miss Ohio program is all based on sponsorships and donors, and people just don’t give like they used to,” Herlihy said. “If I can give a little bit back to help them do that, I’m going to.”
She also explained her family’s love for animals, including several family pets which have come from local shelters.
“We’ve done all kinds of things throughout the year, but these are the main ones we really love and partake in,” she said. “We’re going to divide between the three (organizations).”
For more information on this year’s Herlihy Christmas Open House or to book private tours for groups exceeding 20 visitors, contact Terri Herlihy 419-544-9863 or visit their website.
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