Tonight, a tree shimmering in the living room window will push its light into the December darkness. Single candles will glow in each window of the home. Old-fashioned lanterns will be lit and hung across the wide expanse of a country-style front porch. 

The candles will remain on vigil, not only during the holidays but 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The lanterns will be tended each night. And with the arrival of the holiday season, it has taken Ann Stricklin and her husband, Gil, four hours to decorate the tree, and that’s after the lights were in place.

But they don’t mind.

“It’s our memory tree,” Stricklin says. “These are ornaments the children made when they were small…mementos from vacations, our honeymoon, when the grandchildren were born. I enjoy just unpacking the boxes, re-discovering each item.”

Stricklin says she tries to obtain something new each year as a rememberance of that particular holiday.

The holiday décor in this welcoming home may start at the massive, memory-laden tree, but it hardly ends there as each cozy room testifies. Santa guards the staircase, greeting visitors just inside the front door. There’s holiday china in the living room on the pine hutch, the long table, the whimsical serving cart; some pieces are left out all the time just because Stricklin likes them so much.

In the country kitchen, holiday linens and rocking chairs nestle in front of the small, crackling breakfast room fireplace to complete a classic winter scene.

And then there’s the swing. And the wishbones.

Yes, there is a swing in the kitchen, a real swing. Stricklin says it’s her “therapy” and proceeds to merrily demonstrate. At this time of year, a small Santa hangs above her on a miniature swing and manages a bit of companionable movement in the sudden breeze.

From the pine beams behind them hang “every wishbone from every holiday turkey I’ve ever made,” Stricklin says, her face lighting up with sentiment.

“Actually, though, the very first one is on the Christmas tree and… .” The spell broken, she shrugs and admits: “The cat ate one.”

Holidays are an important time in the Stricklin household, both because of their religious faith and their good feelings about home, family and community.

Gil retired 16 years ago after 37 years of service as a chaplain with the U.S. Army Reserve, and he founded Marketplace Ministries. On the living room fireplace’s heart pine mantle shelf are carved the words: “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:30), and a number of vintage Bibles grace tabletops.

Red, white and blue are the colors of choice inside and out – on trim, walls, upholstery, decoratives – in honor of Gil’s military career, as well as her father’s and grandfather’s.

The patriotic hues team up with plenty of soft, indirect lighting and light-toned wood to create the overall warmth of the interior design. Kitchen beams and flooring throughout the home are salvaged heart pine from Ruckersville, VA. Brick pavers are underfoot in the kitchen, entry hall and bathrooms.

Although the family has lived in our neighborhood for three decades, this all-American country-style residence on Twisted Oak Circle was built just 12 years ago. Stricklin says “it felt like ‘home’ the day we moved in.”

The couple took care to design the structure to fit the furniture, books and belongings from their 41-year marriage. There’s a perfect spot for the deacon’s bench, a niche for the antique railroad safe (above a reinforced floor), a wall for the piano.

Lining the back staircase from a book-lined study to a cheerful playroom are the family’s holiday cards/letters from each year. One framed display near the top of the stairs shows two small, grinning boys; the Stricklin’s two sons were in kindergarten and third grade when the family moved to the neighborhood. A landing many steps down is marked by a double wedding portrait on a holiday greeting dated almost two decades later – it seems “the boys got married the same year.” Further along, grandchildren start popping up on cards and letters.

When it’s suggested that at some point she may run out of room to add Christmas cards and decorations. Stricklin just smiles serenely. Apparently she has it all figured out, but right now she’s on her way to pick up her grandson, and there’s really no time, or need, to explain. 

“Just close the door behind you,” she says. “You can leave the lights on.”