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“I told my son, ‘When you plant me in the ground, cremate Santa and bury him next to me.’”

Growing up in South Florida, the holiday season wasn’t tied to things like building a snowman or cozying up by the fireplace. Instead, we had to trick ourselves into that white Christmas feeling with yard decorations, from big gaudy light displays to blow-up Snoopies in Santa hats and lawns covered in polyester blankets of fake snow.

So when my friend Connor told me about his parents’ love of blow molds—or “blo’mos” in their Texan twang—I got it. He showed me a photo of him and his family hiding amongst a sea of light-up Christmas characters blown from plastic molds (hence the name). Oh yeah, those things.

Connor and his family with their blo’mos.

Christmas meets vintage kitsch

While anyone who’s ever untangled some Christmas lights knows the love and dedication that goes into decorating, Connor’s parents take it to the next level.

Chuck hangs his beloved reindeer for Christmas.

After 20 years of collecting vintage treasures, Chuck and Debbie now have more than 60 Christmas blow molds, which don’t all fit on their front yard. There’s the 5-foot-tall Santa on the roof, the Santa with his reindeer suspended between two trees, a bunch of carolers and a full nativity scene complete with an oversized camel. In the off season, they store the blow molds in the rafters of their garage using Chuck’s organizational grid system.

“We have had to let some go over the years,” says Chuck. “Our nativity scene had one Joseph and too many Marys, so we sold them off. It was just too many wives for Joseph!”

“And our baby Jesus was stolen,” says Debbie. “We had to replace him with a baby doll.”

Chuck and Debbie even got their neighbor hooked on blow molds after they sold him one of their Mary’s and a polar bear they thought was too ugly for their own yard. Now he has a collection of his own, including an elf Chuck’s had his eye on for a while.

“He won’t sell it to us,” Chuck laments.

“And we can’t steal it because he lives right next door!” Debbie giggles.

Chuck and Debbie usually find their blow molds junking or buying them from garage sales for $2-$5. Once they found a life-size snowman at a garage sale in Oklahoma and drove it all the way back to Texas with the snowman upside down between Chuck’s legs.

But the one thing they don’t do is buy online. Chuck and Debbie tell me there are some “very serious people out there.”

More serious than 60 plastic blow molds at one house? Oooohhh, yes.

Carrie Sansing’s display. | courtesy of Glenview Lights

Meet the undisputed blow mold queen

Enter: Carrie Sansing, bonafide queen of the blow mold collectors. Carrie runs “Blow Mold Nation,” Facebook’s largest blow mold group, with more than 1,300 members. Since it’s a closed group, Carrie vets each member individually to weed out trolls and accepts only true Christmas aficionados.

Carrie, who says she inherited the holiday gene from her mother, began collecting blow molds about 40 years ago and currently owns more than 2,000 individual pieces. While the vast majority are for Christmas, followed by Halloween, Carrie also owns every available blow mold for Thanksgiving, Easter and the 4th of July.

Some of Carrie Sansing’s blow molds in storage. | courtesy of Glenview Lights

Her Christmas display in Glenview, IL, which is regularly featured on local news programs, includes a computer-controlled presentation synced to music and a 21-foot-tall tree made of blow molds, custom-made for her by an engineer friend.

“My display changes from year to year,” she says. “I don’t want it to look like Christmas threw up on my lawn. I want it to be tasteful, artful.”

When it’s not the most wonderful time of the year, Carrie moves her collection to a 1,400-square-foot storeroom and turns her attention to repairing vintage molds. She says?—?earnestly and without bragging?—?that she is a leading pioneer of blow mold repair, having figured out for herself many of the now-widely-used methods through a process of trial and error.

Since most blow molds were made sometime between the 1950s and 1990s, years of exposure to the elements have taken a toll on their plastic and paint. Carrie combines DIY repair methods like paint stripping and plastic soldering (she came up with the technique of using old milk jugs as replacement plastic) with an artistic touch to restore them to their original splendor. You can find more in-depth info on all her blow mold repair methods at planetchristmas.com. Utilizing propane torches and corrosive chemicals, this shit is for real.

Today, Carrie Sansing is a big deal in the Christmas collectibles community. She teaches blow mold repair methods at various seminars around the country and previously hosted a 125-person Chicago Christmas conference in her own backyard.

Stages of a blow mold repaint. | courtesy of Glenview Lights

Back in 2003, Carrie stumbled upon planetchristmas.com hoping to find some information about how to manage her display’s power requirements. From there, she met a few blow mold aficionados and realized she wasn’t alone in her passion for vintage decorations. Now these online acquaintances are lifelong friends.

“We call each other up; we chat. We cry for each other when someone gets sick. It’s a very special group of people.”

This year, as her husband battles cancer, Carrie has felt the physical and emotional toll of putting up the display on her own. While she’s pushed her big reveal to later in the season, she wouldn’t dream of giving up this Christmas tradition.

Glenview Lights

“The reason for the season is peace and joy and love,” says Carrie. “I see the world becoming less tolerant and less happy. If I can put a smile on one person’s face, it’s worth it.”

Carrie recalls the time she found a woman crying in her car outside her home.

“At first I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s looking at my house and crying. That can’t be good,’” says Carrie. “But then I talked to her and found out that her husband had recently died. She said to me, ‘This is the first time I’ve smiled in six months. Thank you.’ It’s times like that when you realize you’re touching people’s lives.”

“Bit by the Christmas bug”

As for Chuck and Debbie, blow molds are all about the youthful spirit of the season.

“I like to position a Santa Claus so that he’s peeking out from behind a tree,” says Chuck. “I try to put myself in the minds of the kids in the cars and tell them a story.”

“For the kids? Are you kidding?” Debbie pipes in, laughing. “We do it for ourselves!”

Carrie, Chuck and Debbie’s passion is rooted in a deep sense of nostalgia.

“I got the choir people [blow molds] from my mom,” Carrie tells me. “She’s been gone for 23 years, but she’s still my inspiration. I honor her in my heart 365 days a year.”

Although none of their kids have expressed an interest in taking over their blow mold collections, Carrie holds out hope that her son will get “bit by the Christmas bug.” Until then, she has enough love for them to go around.

“I told my son, ‘When you plant me in the ground, cremate Santa and bury him next to me.’”