Annual holiday setup in Cold Spring takes a week
Each Christmas, Leon Pralatowski honors the memory of his parents by continuing a yuletide tradition that began nearly 40 years ago, in 1984, when his mother started a Dickens village.
There were only seven houses that first year, recalls the Cold Spring resident. But each holiday, she added structures made by Department 56, a Minnesota firm, and sold at Christmas Days, a shop in Arlington, Vermont, to which the family made an annual pilgrimage.
Although both his parents are now gone — his mother died in 1991 and his father in 2011 — Pralatowski keeps the tradition alive and then some. Each year, he takes a week off from work to retrieve the collection from storage and decorate his home on Craigside Drive, working six to eight hours a day.
This year there are 135 buildings in the village under his tree, including his mother’s original seven. “I have about 300, but I couldn’t possibly put them all out,” he said. (He doesn’t travel to Vermont but still orders from Christmas Days.)
The Pralatowski family has been celebrating holidays in Cold Spring for more than a century. “I think I’m the seventh Leon Pralatowski, though I haven’t traced it that far back,” he said.
Leon’s father, who built the family home on Craigside Drive, was an engineer with the New York City Board of Education. His mother, Winifred, was a telephone operator who began work at age 15 during the Depression.
His grandfather was the village postmaster. His grandmother, Ellen, volunteered for the Red Cross at Hotel Manteo (now J. Murphy’s restaurant) when it was a makeshift hospital during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.
His great-grandfather owned a tailor shop on the north side of Main Street at the intersection with Depot Square, where he made uniforms for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. His maternal great-grandfather, an Irishman named Patrick Scullion, worked at the West Point Foundry.
The replicas of historic buildings such as Big Ben and Buckingham Palace are favorites, along with Charles Dickens’ home, the Marley Counting House and Ebenezer Scrooge’s house from A Christmas Carol.
The streets of his miniature community are alive with pedestrians and horsedrawn vehicles. When asked for its population, Pralatowski laughed and admitted, “That I do not know!”
Then there is the Santa Claus collection, which includes 24 created since 1987 by Lynn Haney, a high school art teacher in Lubbock, Texas. His most recent depicts a version of Saint Nick from Germany’s Black Forest region. Stuffed animals from the Vermont Teddy Bear Co. are also part of the visual array.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without the centerpiece, an artificial conifer festooned with ornaments purchased from Vermont over four decades. One of the newer decorations pays homage to Downton Abbey.
Pralatowski said the decorations will stay up until mid-January, when the collection will be boxed and returned to a large, walk-in closet.