New London - If the 3-foot-tall dancing Santa standing in the doorway of Shirley and Charles Alloway's Ocean Avenue home doesn't give you an inkling that they really love Christmas, then step into the foyer, which is filled with dozens of Nativity creches and figurines of carolers.
For Shirley Alloway, 87, this is the time of year when her snowman earrings and holly smock are fashionable and in season. It's the time of year that brings back memories of writing letters to Santa.
"I was 10 or 11, and no one in my class could convince me that Santa didn't exist," she said. "I would get most of the things that I would ask for, so he had to be."
The Alloways don't just believe in the Christmas spirit. They show it, and it's evident in everywhere you look in their home.
The process of changing the Alloways' home into a Christmas wonderland starts right after another holiday, Halloween.
Charles, or "Jack," as he is known to his friends, begins the tedious process of unpacking all of the holiday decorations that literally fill an entire room in their house.
When Jack, 85, a former New London police officer, is asked whether he minds the grunt work, he responds with a quick smile and laugh. "Oh, I get to think for myself now after 60 years. I do really enjoy it."
The Alloways proudly show off their living room to visitors. Every crevice, every shelf and every table has a decoration on it.
It takes the eyes a minute or two to adjust to the shimmering bulbs, splashes of red velvet and sparkling trees.
And while looking at all of the decorations may seem overwhelming and at first appear chaotic, everything has a place and is grouped according to theme.
One part of the room is dedicated to Christmas trees of all sizes. One tabletop tree is decorated entirely with teddy bears, another just with birds and another with handmade ornaments.
A 12-foot Christmas tree is decorated with at least 1,000 ornaments and remains standing year-round. The tree is tied to the wall to prevent it from falling. Of course, there's a story behind that, and Shirley is quick to share it.
"Years ago, I told him to tie it up because I said it was too heavy and it was going to fall, and he didn't," said Shirley. "Sure enough, in the middle of the night, it came crashing down."
Shirley kept the crushed bulbs in a vase as a gentle reminder that "Mama knows best."
Jack smiled. "It wasn't my fault."
The couple's playful banter is refreshing, and even after 65 years of marriage, it is evident that they still enjoy each other's company. They were married in Moffett Field, Calif., where they were both stationed with the Navy during World War II. Shirley is a native New Londoner, or "swamp Yankee," and Jack is from Ohio.
During Christmastime, the couple fall seamlessly into their roles. Shirley loves to give her guest tours of each room, while Jack stays in the background.
He helps with the placement of the decor and is in charge of loading dozens of batteries into the mechanical dolls, which include a guitar-strumming Santa, dancing penguins and a motion-sensored moose head in the guest bathroom.
The Alloways have hundreds of Santa Clauses, including one that is almost as big as Shirley herself. She makes a special point to collect black Santa Clauses to honor her two biracial grandchildren.
"You'd think with half the world being of color, they would be easier to find," Shirley said of the ethnic Santas.
She even collects stockings, including four with troll faces.
"I really enjoy them," she said. "It shows you that there's beauty even in ugly things."
She can't pick a favorite decoration, however.
The Alloways say they enjoy their dining room the best because it is the brightest and warmest room in the house. The space is also called the "Nutcracker" room, as it is filled with dozens of the figurines.
They have a beer-toting nutcracker and a Republican elephant nutcracker along with the traditional soldiers.
The decorations will stay up until the middle of January before the Alloways begin the long process of putting them all away.
"I have loved Christmas all of my life," said Shirley. "People are happy this time of year. It's the one time of the year that you can get a smile from them."