One of Joyce Lankford’s favorite Hallmark ornaments plays an important role throughout her holiday season.
After her 7-foot Christmas tree is erected in the living room of her Jefferson City home, Father Time is hung on a center branch. His working clock is then started with the current time and remains ticking until the tree is taken down shortly after the holidays.
“He’s right in front on the tree so we always know what time it is,” she said of the ornament.
During his duty, Father Time’s more than 1,300 Hallmark ornament friends begin to surround him on neighboring branches, shelves, tables and throughout the Lankford house. Playful penguins, little drummer boys in action, glowing lighthouses and holiday scenes telling “T’was the Night Before Christmas” and singing a variety of Christmas carols emerge, ready to fill the Lankford home to the brim with holiday spirit.
The collection goes beyond more than a love for Hallmark holiday décor. Much like Father Time, each ornament, figurine and keepsake has a
special meaning. A chugging locomotive compliments the passion for trains of her husband, Dave, and a ’57 Chevy towing Santa and friends while playing a popular Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” holiday tune reminds her of her father, who let her drive his ’57 Chevy around her native Kansas City.
This Christmas tradition started with her family, and now she keeps it alive with her three children, granddaughter and seven grandsons.
“If I didn’t continue it, I don’t think my kids would know me,” Lankford said, laughing. “It is a tradition that people start with their kids and hopefully they pass it on. That is what my family has done and I hope my grandkids will do the same.”
Growing up close to the Hallmark headquarters, it made sense the holiday landmark became part of Lankford’s family tradition at a young age.
“We would get on the bus with my grandmother, mother and my sisters and brother and head downtown to see Santa Claus and visit the (Hallmark) store to look at all the Christmas ornaments. It became our annual tradition,” she said. “We would pick out our own ornaments every year from sets of six my mother would buy, having plenty for the five kids. Then the keepsake ornaments started, and my mom started that tradition right away.”
Lankford’s first ornament was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which is one of the only ones that has survived and hangs front and center on her tree each year. She still has some of her mother’s glass ball and candle ornaments, which also are sprinkled on her Christmas masterpiece.
Lankford also worked for Hallmark a few summers while she was in high school. Counting cards during a nightshift from 5 p.m.-1 a.m. didn’t
matter to Lankford. For her, it was like having fun in Santa’s workshop.
“It was great money, and I got to see where the cards were made, the glitter room – I loved it,” she said. “What I should have done is work there right out of high school, but I was going to be an airline stewardess.”
Those ambitions to attend the TWA stewardess training school in Kansas City flew away quickly after an observation flight to Chicago; she instead attended college where she met and later married Dave.
Dave became a teacher in Kansas City, and then accepted a position back in his hometown, Mexico, Missouri, about the time Lankford was about to give birth to their first child, Joe. They lived in Mexico for six years where Lankford stayed at home with Joe, her daughter Mary and youngest son Brad. While on a visit to Jefferson City, Dave was offered a job at the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, who hired him on the spot.
The Lankford family has lived in Jefferson City since 1980, with Dave working at the chamber until he retired and Lankford eventually working at Central Bank until she retired in 2012.
For the next three years, Lankford worked at one of her favorite stories, Kirlin’s Hallmark, where she stayed until they closed their store at Capital Mall in 2015.
As her family grew, so did Lankford’s ornament collection. In 1974 when Joe was born, Hallmark released its first series of keepsake ornaments with a theme. Lankford also purchased those for Joe, as well as her other two children each year.
Before making those final purchases, Lankford receives a Hallmark club membership book every April that gives details on what new items are planned to be released. In July, she previews the ornaments, and then they go on sale. However, Lankford has a method in what ornaments she selects.
“I look at my book first and see what is in there. Then I can go online later, getting a more detailed preview of the ornament, what it does and how it works. Once I see what is interesting, I will go look at it in the store,” she said. “I would spend a lot of time in there before I would decide which
ones I would buy.”
Lankford’s careful thought in choosing ornaments reflects Hallmark’s attention to craftsmanship with each ornament. She is amazed by the intricacy of each ornament, with gorgeous detail, synchronized music, movement and lights, and diverse tastes covered in the company’s selection.
As one of Lankford’s favorite special figures Hallmark has created, the “happy tappers” exhibits five globe encased holiday characters, which dance to holiday music in unison when turned on and performing solos, as well. Three new Hallmark holiday additions to the Lankford home this year include a Santa Express train engine, a carousel and a Star Wars ornament collection, all exhibiting music, lights and mechanized moving parts.
“The Star Wars ornaments talk to each other, do a light show and tell the story of ‘Star Wars,’” she said. “I’m going to set them up along the staircase ledge, and I know the boys are going to love those when they see them this year.”
A couple pieces from Lankford’s collection stay on display throughout the year, including her Beatles ornament that showcases the entire band in uncanny resemblance. However, Lankford typically begins her Christmas decorating the second weekend of November, ready in time for Thanksgiving when her whole family comes to visit. It used to take her two weeks to set up her tree, but then she “got smart.”
“I have seven big storage boxes and I have them categorized,” she said, noting they are divided by sets, musical, ornaments that hook into the tree lights, breakables and other groups. “They are all tagged and in their own boxes within the bins. Before, I just put them all in there. … I put them on the tree in sets, with the little Eskimos near the bottom and Mary’s Angels in one area. But when I took them down, I couldn’t find which one went in which box. Now, they are all together and put back in the box together.”
It now takes four days to assemble her tree, including putting three batteries in many of her more than 1,300 ornaments. Outside of her main attraction, Lankford also displays a variety of additional décor, including a collection of Santa Clauses on her fireplace mantel, a beautiful holiday candle her son purchased from Hermann, three to four additional decorated Christmas trees scattered throughout her home, handmade stockings, an autographed Zuzu Bailey doll from “It’s A Wonderful Life” by actress Karolyn Grimes, a Hallmark Christmas tree shower curtain and a handmade stable Lankford’s grandfather built that includes hand-carved Nativity scene characters.
“This one table has Thanksgiving on it; the rest is all Christmas. As soon as the dinner is over, I put my Christmas on there and it’s done,” she said. “The next week is when I start entertaining. We have Christmas bridge, and I host two of them.”
Plus, friends often come by to view the holiday wonderland.
“My friends tease me and say planes can’t land when flying over my house from all the lights on the tree,” she said, laughing.
Like many families, the Lankfords have many other Christmas traditions, including baking a variety of cookies and decorating gingerbread men. However, the amazement of the Christmas ornaments has continued on in all the Lankford homes.
“I started with my kids, thinking they would do it with their own kids to continue the tradition. But, once I got the grandkids’ first year Christmas ornaments, they expect Grandma to do it,” she said with a smile, noting that some have also started collecting on their own. “All three of my kids are the ones that decorate their trees now, and Mary has two full trees. They were used to helping me so much that they have kept those traditions in their families.”
Lankford said their Christmas celebrations first come with recognizing Christ’s birth. She has considered incorporating her sister’s tradition of baking a birthday cake and singing the birthday song to Jesus into her family’s customs.
“The kids need to be reminded that it’s not about what you get, but it’s about the birth of Christ. … You can cherish all the things you have, but it is also about what is right and what is good,” she said. “They did a birthday cupcake saying ‘Happy Birthday Jesus,’ which was good of Hallmark to do. … They truly cover all the bases. They have something for everything and everybody, and that is what I like about them. It never ends.”
Want to see more from Joyce Lankford’s Hallmark collection and beautifully decorated home? Check out this slideshow!