Whatever you do, be sure and peek in the laundry room. That's where Santa's suit will be, carefully draped over a chair, slipped off after a long night.
Larry and Arlene Pennie are one of three couples opening their homes for this year's 11th annual Holiday Tour of Homes, benefiting Homes of Hope Inc.
Fresh firs, flickering luminarias, even a tree full of frogs will greet guests on the self-paced tour, which will be held Dec. 1 to 3 to benefit three group homes serving adults with disabilities. About $10,000 was raised last year for the 15 residents, who are in their mid-20s to 80s.
While most of us are lucky to get one tree decorated, the Pennie's Ironwood Country Club home showcases 12, from a formal tree wrapped in crystal and gold to one tucked with hand-made pillow ornaments. Egg carton ornaments crafted into Wizard of Oz characters, birds and historical figures hang from a foyer tree.
Larry Pennie has set up a nearly life-sized outdoor Nativity, which he's displayed every December for 35 years.
It takes more than 300 volunteers to run the three-day event and chairwoman Ruth Ann Lipic talked about the volunteers' biggest complaint.
"It's 'You didn't call me last year.' This makes their Christmas. They love doing it."
Not only are the homes lavishly decorated but feature different architectural styles, with Joe and Faith Herbers' new home in Bloomington's Brookridge II including a blend of marble, granite, limestone and Brazilian cherry finishes.
"I'm just always touched by the families who open their homes," Lipic said. "It takes special people with a very generous spirit and a love of their community to share what they have so others can have a little help with having a home."
Last Christmas, the Herbers' home was still under construction so they lugged their presents, blankets and a 12-inch tree over to the site. After setting the tree on a bedroom windowsill, they spread the presents beneath it and slept on the floor.
This year, the miniature tree is centered on the bar in the downstairs family room, which is layered with memorabilia from the World Series champions, including an old Busch Stadium seat signed by Cardinals Hall of Famers.
Every room has a different theme, each decorated in fresh greens and Frasier firs. Since the family is hosting a German foreign exchange student, his room will display his native ornaments. The dining room is serene, centered by a hand-carved Nativity from Rome, blessed by Pope John Paul II.
As soon as Halloween was over, Jan Schrad was unpacking snowmen in her Hawthorne Hills home. Her collection covers the fireplace hearth, with carrot-nosed snow people placed high and low in a cloud of cotton.
"I almost always buy snowmen in threes because I have three boys," she said.
In a quiet sitting room, she was surrounded by a two-decade collection of Santas. But it is the year-round memory tree in a corner of the basement that touches her the most. At eye level is a gold-framed photo of a sister-in-law who died suddenly, leaving two young children. The memory tree also serves as a family scrapbook, with photos of her boys as babies, an ornament from a Mount Rushmore vacation and a Nebraska cornhusker ornament for husband Jerry.
More than $100,000 has been raised for Homes of Hope over the tour's history and this season's proceeds will help residents beyond their everyday needs, said board chairwoman Maggie Severino.
"We want to provide our residents with not only a place to live but a life," she said. "To go to church, you need a car and maybe a wheelchair. That's what our tour provides, not extras but essentials as we take care of some of the most vulnerable people in our society."
Homes of Hope Inc. is a nonprofit organization started 13 years ago by a group of parents who were concerned about who would care for their children after they were gone. Out of that came the group homes. With donated land, materials and labor, the first home opened in Normal in December 1995. Two have been added but there's still a waiting list for residents.
Tour of Homes
What: Holiday Tour of Homes
When: 1 to 8 p.m. Dec. 1; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 2; 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 3
Where: 5 Silverberry Court and 15 Brompton Court, Bloomington, 1902 Quail Run Country Club Court, Normal
Benefits: Homes of Hope Inc.
Tickets: Available at Country Gingham, The Mole Hole, Casey's Garden Shop of Bloomington and The Garlic Press, Normal; also at the homes during the tour.
What: Homes for the Holidays 2006 in Delavan
When: 4 to 8 p.m. Dec. 2
Where: Candlelight tour of five historic homes; strolling carolers and cookie walk
Cost: $8; includes horse-drawn carriage and trolley rides; group discounts
Tickets: Available from Delavan businesses and throughout the tour
Contact: Harriet Szadkowski (309) 241-5456
What: Dwight Woman's Club Holiday House Walk
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Dec. 3
Where: Six Dwight-area homes and open house at Dwight Historical Society
Cost: $10, includes refreshments at Main Street Company and door prizes