Michael Nitzsche would often fall asleep underneath the Christmas tree, its twinkling lights and sparkling ornaments enveloping him in a Christmas reverie.
“Its magical,” he says, “it’s one of those fantasies that you’re in them, that you’re part of the tree.”
For the avid Christmas ornament collector, Christmas doesn’t come just once a year. And his Christmas devotion isn’t relegated to childhood. Nitzsche, 64, often finds himself lost in the sparkle of the 60,000 Christmas ornaments he’s acquired over the years. Often times, throughout his adult life, the now 64-year-old would find himself asleep underneath one of his 10 fully decorated trees.
But in 2012, Nitzsche was diagnosed with stage-four prostate cancer and decided it was time to share his passion with others.
After 60 years of collecting, today through Saturday, Nitzsche will sell his entire collection and donate the proceeds to his church, the First Congregational United Church of Christ.
Nitzsche recalls the first Christmas ornament he received: a gold-bearded Santa, which he still has today. He was only 3 years old. By age 5, he learned how to make his own bed just so he could hide his Christmas candy box collection from his mother.
The boxes, meant to hang from trees, were filled with sweets and toys. Nitzsche would empty the boxes, fold them and stack them in his mattress. Years later, when he lived on his own, he unearthed the boxes to decorate his tree in his Fort Wayne, Ind., home.
It wasn’t until his mother visited him when he was 18 that she realized the extent of her son’s hobby.
“She said, ‘If I had known, I would have thrown them all away!’” Nitzsche says.
Nitzsche’s collection contains a wide variety, including an ornament from each of the 48 contiguous states. Those ornaments serve as reminders of his time as a senior cake decorator for Wilton Enterprises, when, starting in the early ’70s, he flew all over the country, making a name for himself in the cake-decorating industry.
Nitzsche’s collection continued to grow — at an approximate rate of 1,000 ornaments a year — eventually taking over the rooms in his home.
Nitzsche and his partner, Roger, moved into a new home in Venice in 1987. The home featured 10 fully decorated faux Christmas trees ranging from 4 feet to 16 feet tall; the trees remained on display year-round. Each tree contained hundreds of ornaments, with branches carrying themes from Fourth of July to Florida fruits. To ensure each of his ornaments received its time in the spotlight, Nitzsche would switch some out every day.
In 1999, when Nitzsche moved to Sarasota, it took him and four friends four full days to pack the delicate decorations. Although Nitzsche decided not to unpack the entire collection, he kept one tree up and continued to switch the ornaments out until two years ago, when Nitzsche adopted a cat. Nitzsche came home one day to his cat playing with one of his treasures and realized cats and delicate ornaments don’t mix.
For two years, the ornaments have been packed away in two large storage units. During the sale, Nitzsche will see the collection in its entirety for the first — and last — time. It’s bittersweet. He says even though the ornaments will soon go to new owners, he’ll never forget the stories behind each colorful piece. He considers his ornaments “old friends.”
“I know where these have been and know what fun times they’ve seen — it’s time to let go,” says Nitzsche.
By the numbers
1860 - year Michael Nitzsche’s oldest ornament, a wax baby Jesus, was made
2 - number of garages he has filled with his ornaments
60,000 - number of ornaments Nitzsche owns
600 - number of handmade ornaments Nitzsche made at home
10 - number of boxes of Santa ornaments
5 - number of original Styrofoam ornaments Nitzsche owns from the 1950s
IF YOU GO
Christmas Ornament Sale
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14 to Saturday, Nov. 16
Where: First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1031 S. Euclid Ave.
Info: Call 953-7044
Contact Harriet Sokmensuer at [email protected]