The Minten Sister's Story

The Christmas House Story of your new Department 56 item.

It was a sheer joy and pleasure to personally meet the Minten sisters of Fulfurrias, Texas in March of 2022.  We had been talking for a year about their huge collection of Department 56 Villages, and finding new homes for their collection.  The three sisters, Dorothy, Esther and Janie, had a lifetime love affair with Department 56 villages, as well as other collectables.  As I heard their story, I knew it was worth sharing with all the people who would be become a new home for pieces from their collection. 

It all started in 1976 after their new family home was completed on the Minten ranch, in the small, rural community of Falfurrias, Texas.  They decorated their new home with Christmas – that is, the entire house! Every nook and cranny, even closets and restrooms, all displaying the spirit of the Holiday! It was a beautiful winter wonderland that they wanted to share with family and friends, so, they did just that, hosting a Holiday Luncheon to bring in the Season! At the urging of a friend, the idea to open up their home to the public during this time of year sparked an annual tradition that saw thousands of people travel miles to experience the wonder of the Holiday presented by these three sisters. It didn’t take long for this event to become known as ‘The Christmas House’, and not just in Falfurrias, but throughout Texas, surrounding states, as well as other parts of the World! The sisters were amazed that strangers would travel distances to see their creation!

(Dorothy and Esther in front of the Old Curiosity Shop)

All 3 sisters were elementary school teachers (Janie confessed, it was because they got their summers off!).  And, they made the most of those summers. The sisters traveled the world; they even visited the Dickens’ “Old Curiosity Shop” in 1971 (piece #59056).   After the two older sisters retired from teaching in 1986, it was then that they made the decision to open up their home for the public to see the ‘Christmas House’.  The first year they had 30 groups tour their home.  Over the years, the tours grew to over 260 groups per year, which translated into over 100,000 people visiting this remote little town in South Texas.  They hosted 2 tours a day and 3 on Saturdays.  The tours began in September and ended in April of the next year.  I’m really not sure why they even took the displays down, but the idea was to freshen up with something new, and different, every year.  The Minten sisters enjoyed Christmas year-round.  If they weren’t conducting tours, they were designing and planning for the next year. 

The theme changed every year, and it was kept a total secret, from everyone, until the launch of the new season.  Some of their themes included; “We wish you a Merry Christmas” (1986), A Christmas Journey through the land of books” (1992), “The Lights and Delights of Christmas” (1995), and “We Have Christmas down to a “T”: Traditions, Tales and Trends” (2002).  And so many more!

As you drive to this ranch located an hour southwest of Corpus Christi, down a long country road with only mesquite brush and grazing cattle, you are left in awe with the thought of thousands of people making this pilgrimage to The Christmas House every year for 34 years!  But once you meet these amazing sisters, you understand why.  Not only are they very talented in creating and decorating for Christmas, but they are also very accomplished musicians and singers.  So, your tour included theme dressed hostesses, homemade baked goodies, hot cocoa and Christmas stories and songs.  You spent several hours with the Minten sisters during your tour.  Every tour ended with a story of the true meaning of Christmas.  Sharing their faith and love of Jesus Christ and His birth through their “Holy Land- Little Town of Bethlehem” display was what made the Christmas House so special for the Minten sisters. 

The experience went a step further after several guests had inquired about purchasing some Christmas items. So in response, they opened their Christmas store “Santa’s Texas Workshop” in 1983 in the original white country home where they were born, which is still open today.  And it is an amazing sight to see! I enjoyed going through their store and seeing all the antiques they had cared for through the years- an old ice box (literally), a highchair, and toys they used as children and many display pieces they gathered through the years. 

(Janie and Allison in front of Santa's Texas Workshop}

But their story doesn’t end there;  $1 of every nominal entry fee went to support the Children ‘s Heart and Health Institute in Corpus Christie, Texas.  This charity is very meaningful to the Mintens because of a family member who experienced heart issues as a youth.  One year a tour guest begged Dorothy Minten to play the organ in their living room.  Cheeky Dorothy responded “only if you make a donation”, and so it began.  Every year Dorothy would play only if there were enough donations placed on the organ.  Over the years, the Minten sisters have donated over $360,000 to the Children’s Heart and Health institute of Texas. 

With two of the three sisters in their early and mid 90’s, and COVID-19 shutting down the Christmas House for a couple years, the sisters decided, after some 33 years, it was time to close the house to the Holiday tradition and share their collection of Christmas Villages with others.  Janie shared that “Life is like a roll of toilet paper- the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes”.  This was a very hard chapter in the Minten sister’s lives, shutting down something that had brought them as much joy as it did for the thousands of people who visited over the years! I assured them that each of you would carry their story to your family and friends as you share your village displays adorned with a Minten sister Department 56 village treasure. 

Allison and John flew to Falfurrias, TX, spent 4 days packing and loading thousands of pieces into a 28' moving van and drove it back to Seattle.  Ensuring everything arrived in great condition.  It has been a joy and pleasure to find new homes for their collection over the last couple years.  We are very sad that Dorothy passed away right before the holidays in 2022.  But stay in touch with Esther and Janie and share the emails and stories we receive from people who were blessed to received one of their loved treasures.