A Christmas party of tidings, tinsel and togetherness is coming to town. Jennifer Ebeling’s celebration conveys the warmth of the season like no other. The Maple Grove resident embraces sing-alongs and other family-style experiences with a live Santa, party games and more. The itinerary, perfected over 15 years, would make any winter-worn soul rejoice.
“It’s become a tradition for us. Honestly, we just don’t attend any other party like it at Christmastime or any other time of the year,” friend and neighbor Tina Shinn says. “If you can ever get on Jennifer’s invitation list for her Christmas party, consider yourself lucky. It’s the most genuine heartfelt Christmas celebration I’ve ever been to. I think I cry every year.”
From start to finish, guests encounter a warm reception. Even from the outside, the Ebeling’s home looks inviting with illuminated decorations. A tree glows with ornamental glitter on every bow. As guests enter, their coats and boots are taken. Sounds of the Crimson Harmony Choir make the mood merry and food is aplenty from a characteristically Minnesotan potluck, to a complimentary melted chocolate fountain for kids (of all ages) and beverages for all.
Smiles surface. Snapshots are taken. Memories are in the making. There’s no need for gift giving here. The Ebeling’s bring more than 50 people together each year for an evening celebrating the true meaning of Christmas.
With candles along the sidewalk, sleigh bells on the front door knob and a holiday scarf-clad bust of Abraham Lincoln, every room has a touch of whimsy that retains elegance. The Christmas tree brims with more than 2,000 decorations, a collection of treasures procured from beloved stores such as A Place Called Home and online sources. The lavishly decorated tree makes the ideal backdrop for photos with Santa (he arrives later).
Ebeling recruits, and hires, holiday elves (helpers) to put everything in place. “A team of five college students gets together to make the party happen,” Ebeling says. It takes them around 10 days to complete the decorating. Notes and photos from previous celebrations provide inspiration and a guide for the overall look.
This is the fourth celebration for Maple Grove resident, Decora Topp, who began her work with Ebeling as a halper “It’s fun to come back and see the other helper do it together. I love this. It’s just an excuse to celebrate,” Topp says. “Jennifer puts a lot of hard work into it and her kids may not appreciate it now, but they will later when they can bring their kids,” Topp says.
Planning and celebrating go in tandem. A debrief session with her helpers immediately follows each Christmas event. What worked well is penned and decorations are photographed. Roles for next year are assigned. “The party evolves with something new. It just gets better and better,” Ebeling says.
Some traditions never fail to enchant the crowd. A highlight is Santa’s grand entrance as the choir sings. In what could be lifted from a fairy tale, a vision of jolly St. Nick appears from the snow. Santa is draped head to toe with holly-red robes trimmed in ermine. Garry Kroft looks truer to life than Santa could ever be. The Maple Grove resident sports a real beard, a stout frame and jolly disposition.
He resembles a Victorian holiday card depicting Father Christmas; Santa Kroft’s festive charm is timeless. He’s appeared at every Ebeling Christmas party and everyone wants a picture of Santa and some guests sit on his knee. “Kids ask for what they want for Christmas. Part of my job is to let parents know,” Santa Kroft says. “Everyone plays along with it. No one spoils it for anyone else.”
After Santa leaves for the North Pole, the party moves to the basement where an electric keyboard is set up. Dim lighting encourages guests to sing. “They did the 12 Days of Christmas. She gets them all [to participate] whether they can sing or not,” guest Sharon Quast says of host Ebeling. Laughter ensues as novice voices swell into song.
Little do guests know as they enjoy this year’s celebration that next year’s is soon in the making. With to-dos on her calendar and a twinkle in her eye, Ebeling always has a bit of Christmas in her heart. Her aim is to create a lasting memory of all that’s good about Christmas. “Having a tradition is so important, but documenting it is just as important,” Ebeling says. “We are all two generations away from anyone knowing anything about you.”