On a lovely autumn day not too long ago, a wide-eyed scamp (that’d be me) wandered into a Michaels craft store. Eerie lights and ghastly sounds caught her attention and drew her to the center of the floor, where there, in all it’s spooky glory, was the Lemax Halloween village display. She was hooked immediately, “Christmas village? Screw that! I want a Halloween village!” proclaimed the wide-eyed scamp.
For a Halloween fanatic, a Christmas village is nice, but it just can’t fill you with the ghoulish glee that only Halloween can bring. So why not take your favorite Christmas traditions, and give them just a few more ghosts, goblins and ghouls? In recent years the Halloween village trend has taken off. What used to be a fun niche with one or two brands, is spreading rapidly, with even major department stores getting in on the action. So say you want to start a village. How do you choose your pieces? Should you stay brand loyal? Do you mix and match? Are you in it for the collectibles? A certain theme? Do you need something that doesn’t cost a fortune due to rampaging toddlers and cats? In this article, we will be taking a look at some of the major brands and options, and help you get started collecting your very own tiny houses of horror.
Dept. 56: Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start) with one of the first big lines to put out a Halloween village. The Original Snow Village® Halloween came out in 1999 as an offshoot of the Original Christmas Snow Village (click here for their whole family tree). Dept. 56 can be tricky to hunt down, because they prefer to focus on their “brick and mortar shops.” You can use their store locator on the website to find a local shop (Knott’s Berry Farm, if you are here with us at Fangirl Nation). As a brief note, if you really want to order online eBay has pretty much all of these brands, but I suggest buying in person if possible. Shipping on these pieces is atrociously expensive and risky (lots of heavy, breakable ceramics, resins and moving parts).
Dept. 56 does an amazing job with their sculpting and coloring, giving the pieces a real high-end quality collector feel. They also have a licensing agreement with Disney, allowing them to make houses and accessories that are Disney themed, (a big bonus for Disney buffs), as well as giving a more kid-friendly option. The original non-licensed pieces tend to use a spookier vibe and darker colors. Because Dept. 56 is an established maker of collectibles, you will pay for that quality. Most buildings range from $80-150 per piece, making them less accessible to some (raises hand). They also tend to have fewer pieces with sound or moving parts.
Pros: Highly detailed, good quality pieces, darker and creepier feel than some brands, license agreement with Disney
Cons: Less pieces with moving parts, fewer stores, expensive
Lemax Spooky Town
Lemax is another large producer of holiday villages and collectibles. The company itself started in 1990 and is available here. Spooky Town sells through several widely spread retailers including Michaels, K-Mart and Sears. They tend to have a much wider distribution than Dept. 56, and are less expensive. Each large piece is usually between $40-90 with one huge piece a season topping out at $130 or so. The great news is, if you have a Michaels nearby, and you play it smart, you can use those lovely 40% off coupons they are so fond of giving. I suggest hitting them up in August. It’s early, but that’s the point. The village pieces won’t be on sale yet for the season, and you can sneak in that coupon. Lemax pieces tend to have sound and light on most of their large buildings and a lot of moving parts, which is fun. They are slightly lesser in quality than Dept. 56. Lemax also tends to carry a few pieces that are a bit sillier, and brighter in color.. Some can look a bit ‘cartoony’. If you dig cartoony, they carry a freaky carnival selection, that I, personally, will not touch with a 10 foot pole (but hey, whatever you’re into).
Pros: Readily available, lots of sound and moving parts, significantly less expensive
Cons: Not as high quality as Dept. 56, visual effects and colors often feel more “cartoony”
Hawthorne Village is a bit of an odd one. Pieces are available from http://www.bradfordexchange.com/
Instead of buying a single piece, you buy a “subscription” for the collection, which is usually between 4-6 pieces. Each piece is called an “issue” and costs $69.99. You can then opt out of pieces you do not want. It’s an interesting deal, in that it guarantees you will get the full-themed set, and not miss out on that one last piece because it sold out in every store. At $69.99 Hawthorne’s price lands smack dab in between Dept. 56 and Lemax. Hawthorne also has licensing agreements with Disney, and does have a similar look and feel to Dept. 56. Occasionally, single pieces are available to retailers such as Wal-Mart (online). Currently available on their website is a Nightmare Before Christmas set (as pictured). The subscription model does mean you are likely to spend a significant sum of money at once and increase your collection very rapidly. Normally, many collectors prefer to pick and choose only one new big piece each year. You also have to order online, so you get those fun shipping charges added for $9.99 an issue.
Pros: High quality, licensing agreements, whole collection guarantee
Cons: Subscription model means many pieces at once, overall cost for multiple pieces is high, have to order online (shipping costs)
Fiddlehead Fairy Garden– This company primarily does fairy garden pieces, but they do have a couple really cute Halloween themed ones, and you really can’t beat the price. Many of the pieces are in the $30-40 range. They are available from Amazon and several other online retailers.
Home Depot- Sort of surprisingly, Home Depot has a piece out. It is very inexpensive, has moving parts and lights, but is obviously made from lower end materials like plastics.
Walmart- Walmart has inexpensive ceramic accessories such as a pumpkin stand in their seasonal section this year.
Petsmart- For Halloween PetSmart puts out themed fish tank decorations, that work surprisingly well as village accessories.
Some people are very brand loyal, but personally, I’m looking to make a cool looking village as inexpensively as possible (I’m a broke writer, I can’t really afford an obsession with Dept. 56 or Hawthorne). If you have a little bit of crafty nature in you, I highly suggest trying to make a few pieces on your own. You can personalize your village, and save a lot of money. In particular I highly recommend making your own trees, bases and backdrops. Things like trees can be very expensive in the village collections ($6-$15 a tree) and suitable replacements can easily be made at home. For example, with some Styrofoam, glue, and craft moss you can easily turn an inexpensive fall floral stem from any craft store into several trees.
- Different sets may be different size scales from each other. Be prepared to get measurements for pieces to make sure they won’t look ridiculous in your village. The figures, however, are almost always larger in scale than the buildings, even within the same brand, to make them more visible.
- Check clearance sales! Often the best time to get a piece for next year is right after Halloween. In particular, Michaels often marks down their leftover Lemax.
Well, Halloween Haunters, that’s about it for our tiny horror house guide. I do hope this gives you a great start to a new obsession…I mean collection. Happy collecting, everyone, and Happy Halloween!