Stephanie Phillips loves her family, Christmas and elves, and the best six weeks of the year include a combination of all three.

An Alfa Insurance agent, Phillips starts decorating the bedrooms of her 2,700 square-foot Lake Martin home in mid-November. She puts a tree in every bedroom, dresses the beds with Christmas-themed linens and adds holiday pillows. She works from the back of the house forward, so she can take down the autumn and Thanksgiving decorations in the main rooms while she puts up the Christmas décor. And there’s a lot of Christmas décor.

Her 10-foot tree beside the living room mantel is covered with ornaments, many of which feature an elf collection that began more than 20 years ago.

“Elves are my favorite,” Phillips said, pointing out some whimsical elf balls she received from a friend over 22 years ago. The whimsical Santa ornaments were found in the floral shop at the local Piggly Wiggly over 28 years ago.

The floral shop closed more than 10 years ago, but Phillips still loves to shop local, especially for decorations, like the vintage snow village she found this year at Longleaf Antiques in Alexander City.

“My grandson, Judson, loves to play with it. He moves the people around and tells me, ‘GiGi, they want to be on this shelf,’” she said.

The village is just one of the features Phillips has added to her annual decorating spree since Judson was born eight years ago. Sweets and treats in colorful Christmas-themed dishes cover the top of a bureau just inside the front door. She recreates this Candyland display for Judson every year.

In addition to the foil-wrapped chocolate candies, green and red M&Ms and old-fashioned gumdrops, Phillips sets up one of the four trees in the main rooms of the home she and her husband, Brett, bought when they married in front of the backyard fireplace in 2013. The tree on the bureau wears lake-themed and fishing lure ornaments to honor Brett’s love for the water and fishing.

The main attraction is the tall tree in the living room with the elf legs sticking out at the top, as if Santa’s assistant fell into the tree while decorating. And a life-sized Santa stands beside the tree, ready to stack gifts around its base on Christmas Eve.

The stockings were selected to coordinate each of her children with his or her spouse, and just to make it clearer who gets which one, Phillips hangs each with a 5-inch wooden monogram.

Amid the greenery and ornament columns on top of the mantel, two of Phillips’ most treasured elves reside over the festivities. Gifts from her daughters, these delightful fellows add whimsy to the magical space. Above them in the center of the wreath, Phillips hangs a large Santa face. He is bedecked with an array of ribbons from Christmases past.

“Every year, I add more ribbons. That’s why he has so many ribbons of different colors and patterns on him. I just keep adding them,” she said.

All the furnishings are made extra cozy for Christmas morning with a generous assortment of pillows in stripes and plaids, embroidered with festive sayings or appliqued with elven legs. The pillows are two or three deep on some pieces, creating an inviting artistic flair for the room.

With commanding presence, a beautiful, tall Nativity scene graces the living room sofa table. Crosses, angels and other pieces of art that have been gifted to her are arranged among the kings, shepherds and animals that gaze upon the Child in the manger.

“It just reminds us always to give God the glory,” Phillips said.

And on the bookshelves that flank the stone fireplace, Phillips interspersed family photographs with elves and Santas and other fun holiday pieces.

“When I was a child, my grandmother made Christmas very special for me. That meant a lot, and I’ve tried to always make it special and fun for my children,” said Phillips, who moved to Alexander City the summer before her junior and senior years of high school. She lived with an aunt and uncle that soon moved to Sylacauga, where she finished school. 

The annual decorating fun begins with gathering materials for the 60-plus feet of garland that adorns the porch rails and frames the home’s front door.

“My daughter, Sydney, and I got on the Gator and went through the neighborhood with our clippers, playing Christmas music really loud. We found all the greenery in the woods and in our backyard and just around the neighborhood,” Phillips said.

She set up a table on the front lawn and filled buckets with water and the greenery they had collected. Then, with the help of her mother-in-law, Becky, she created small bundles using pine, cedar and blue spruce and tied each bundle of greenery to a heavy-gauge wire. Three 8-foot pieces make up the 24-foot garland around the front door, and she spritzes the garland with water every day to keep it fresh throughout the season. She added red and gold ornaments to make it pop, and Brett secured it well.

On the back porch, Becky and Phillip’s daughter-in-law, Kristen, made some 40 feet of garland with Leyland cedar boughs they picked up at Ballard Farms. They wrapped the cedar garland around the top rail of the lakeside porch, threading tiny white lights through the greenery to make it more festive. And white lights adorn a tree on the dock that offers greetings of this holy season to passersby on the lake.

“Our neighbors next door used to put the tree with white lights out on their dock every year, and when they moved, we got the tree, so the tradition can continue,” Phillips explained.

The eclectic style of decorating is Phillips’ true self, she said. The ornate walnut dining table, set with gold chargers, white plates and large festive bows, was purchased as soon as they moved in. She bought a beautifully inlaid buffet for the dining room from a friend whose new lake house would not complement the piece, and she picked up the china cabinet at an antiques shop.

“I always try to shop local. It’s very important,” Phillips said.

Festivities begin on Christmas Adam, which, Phillips said, comes before Eve. Everyone opens one very special gift – the matching Christmas pajamas. And when all have donned their holiday PJs – Phillips and Brett, Madison and her husband, Larry, Christopher and his wife, Kristen, Judson, and Sydney all cozy up to the fireplace to take a family portrait.

“It’s just all about making our family time fun and special. Everyone helps to get it ready, and we love being together. That’s what matters,” Phillips said.