Young lovers ice skate, a Christmas choir sings, carnival rides whirl and trains buzz along their tracks—this idyllic world exists in the basement of Jim Lanahan and Don Thompson.
The annual Perry Hall Christmas Garden for Charity includes more than 500 tiny buildings and represents a bygone era of holiday simplicity.
"This is the way it should be. This is the way it was, back when everyone got together for the holidays and kids played in the snow," Lanahan said. "I tried to bring that back."
While the elaborate train garden exudes nostalgia, its creators are keenly aware of the troubles facing families today. The price for admission to the garden is a donation of non-perishable food that will be donated to the Eastern Family Resource Center in Essex.
"Last year, we delivered four carloads of food in my Honda CR-V. This is our outreach for the community," Thompson said.
"We had one gentleman who brought back four groups of people with him, all with food donations. People were bringing cases, not just one item, and shopping bags full. It was unbelievable," Lanahan said.
The roommates said they are hoping for a dramatic increase in visitors. Last year, roughly 525 people toured the garden. This year, they hope to exceed 800.
Over the past seven years, the garden has expanded in both size and detail. This year, about 100 new structures were added to garden streets, including a McDonald's with talking drive-thru and car (the driver orders a Double Quarter Pounder), a car wash with real steam and a mountain with spooky blue mist. A Habitat for Humanity house also appears under construction.
"I get fascinated with the animation. I try to make it realistic. When I've taken pictures and brought them up on my computer, it looks like you're standing right there on the sidewalk," Thompson said.
For Lanahan, expansion of this year's garden was part of his personal medical rehabilitation. He suffered a heart attack in February and continued to recover into the summer.
"I knew I needed to start the Christmas garden in August if I was going to get it done in time," Lanahan said.
The garden's construction began in the second week of August and was finished in the second week of November. While working, he said he reflected on the happiness the garden brought to community members in past years.
"There are people out there having a hard time making ends meet. What we try to do is give them some kind of outlet to enjoy and forget about everything," Lanahan said.
Tours are held 6-8 p.m. on weeknights and 12:30-8 p.m. on weekends, between Nov. 24 and Jan. 6, located at 6 Bellington Court in Perry Hall. Visitors must call 410-529-1457 in advance to make an appointment. Admission is a non-perishable food donation.
Updates on the display will be available on the Facebook page, Perry Hall Md. Christmas Garden for Charity.