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Omaha Magazine

Oh, Christmas Trees! Holiday Spirit Abounds in Council Bluffs Home

Oct 28, 2020 08:18AM ● By Katy Spratte Joyce
two Christmas trees in foyer, staircase

Photography by William Hess Photography

Deck the halls with...Mickey Mouse? For one Council Bluffs woman, Christmas decorating goes well beyond the traditional holiday themes and color schemes. 

Julia Burris has adorned her beautiful country home with roughly 30 over-the-top, painstakingly designed trees for years. She began embracing this elaborate, time-consuming hobby with a 16-tree effort about a decade ago. Sourcing materials all year long from stores like Michael’s, Home Goods, Walmart, and Hobby Lobby, she starts designing the trees and their themes in her mind. And “shopping small” in the area is also a focus, as local shops like Mulhall’s, Mangelsen’s, Prairie in Bloom, and Tannenbaum Christmas Store are additional favorites of Burris. 

Armed with pieces from past years and new shopping finds, and with a master plan in place, Burris starts in her basement, where all trees on that level are up and decorated by the end of October. In the past, the basement has hosted numerous Disney trees—a nod to the family’s favorite vacation resort spot, where they go each and every year. In fact, Burris’ 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter asks to see her Disney Princess-themed tree, which she calls “my Christmas tree,” all year round. For 2020, this talented grandmother is already planning a new Disney tree that will look like Minnie Mouse, complete with her signature polka dots and a mouse ears tree topper. 

Last year, Burris’ main floor included numerous trees in each room, from a seascape tree in the kitchen with mermaid vibes, to a vintage-inspired wedding dress tree in the dining room, to an aptly placed family-themed tree in the family room. Upstairs, there was a brightly embellished peacock tree in the master bedroom with an extravagant topper that mimicked an actual peacock nest. Other highlights included a master bedroom tree made from the silk flowers of her son’s wedding; Burris added that “people always comment and say they’d never think to put flowers on a tree.” Thinking outside the box is truly her specialty, as she also loves going beyond the classic holiday colors of red and green with unexpected combinations, like a black ombre and silver tree or a pale blue and white tree. 

Burris said she loves tackling this massive undertaking every year, adding with a laugh, “It’s not a cheap hobby, that’s for sure.” However, she was careful to note that not every tree is new each year. Many are rotated in and out of display throughout the years or updated in small ways. 

And it’s not just for show; a good cause benefits, too. In past seasons, Burris allowed for tours of up to 50 guests at a time to see the trees and experience the magic of the holidays. Those who take the tour pay a small fee and get a little ornament for their own tree as a parting gift (including this reporter, who visited last January to see the beauty in person).
During the 2019 holiday season, nearly $1,000 was raised for the Council Bluffs nonprofit PACE (Pottawattamie Arts, Culture and Education). The group recently unveiled a beautiful new headquarters on the banks of the Missouri River with views of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and downtown Omaha skyline. According to their website, this umbrella organization aims “to strengthen, develop, and promote arts, cultural, and historical institutions, organizations, and activities in Council Bluffs and Pottawattamie County.” Burris has chosen PACE as her beneficiary the past few years, though she has raised funds for organizations as diverse as Children’s Square, the Treynor Women’s League, Omaha Symphony, and the Crescent Food Bank over the years. 

Danna Kehm, PACE’s chief executive, is very appreciative of Burris’ contributions to the arts organization. “Funds raised during the Burris Holiday Home Tour are generously donated to PACE and aid in our adult and children’s programming,” she said. “We are so very thankful to Julia and [husband] Dale Burris for their support the last three years, and ultimately, for their support of PACE. While this year brings new challenges for us all, we look forward to seeing the creative trees Julia will put together, from a distance.” 

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Kehm and Burris agreed that there would be no in-person tours of Burris’ home for 2020. However, both women encourage past tour participants to go to the PACE website and make a donation to the charity at this time, and hope for the fundraising tour’s return in 2021. 

This year, the unique festival of trees won’t have its usual 30-plus stars. Burris is estimating that she’ll spruce up roughly 10 trees, so it will still feel like Christmas. And it’s no surprise that the process began weeks ago. Besides the aforementioned new Minnie Mouse tree, she’s also aiming for a new look for the wedding dress skirt form and matching tree. It formerly included flowers and now will be more of a striking gown look, with rich tones of turquoise, navy blue, and gold. However, that may expand, because every year Burris says she will only do one or two new trees, and that inevitably turns into three or four, she shared with a smile. 

And though the Burris Christmas tree project comes from the store, it’s clear that it does mean a little bit more. 

To make a donation to PACE, go to paceartsiowa/donate.

This article was printed in the November/December 2020 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.