A Christmas Phantasm

Journey into the Winter Wonderland of Sandra Caglayan


If there are cynical souls who doubt that a magical world inhabited by fairies—old and young, wise and devious, industrious and mischievous—actually exists, they haven’t crossed the portal into the Christmas cosmos of Sandra Caglayan.

Sandra opened her front door. I stepped into her foyer and stopped with a sharp intake of breath. Not since my first holiday trip to Fifth Avenue in New York City, as an awed child, have I felt such enchantment. My eyes and smile widened as detail after detail emerged. Sandra’s husband Murat later described her Decemberorating as “awesome and like a Christmas bomb.” Her son commented, “Mom, it exploded Christmas everywhere.” Sandra’s spectacular creation does indeed blow apart the ordinary and humdrum. Her wizardry animates a different dimension; she casts a spell of delight on all who enter.

The first day we met, her extravaganza was in the making. I walked through a profusion of fairies, flowers, ribbons, ornaments, multiple Santas, trees, wreaths, elves, lights, greenery and a thousand other detailed items Sandra uses each year for her creations. Glitter settled on the floor like flakes falling from a recently shaken Snow Globe.

“Each year it’s different. By New Year, I break everything down and store it and then the next Christmas, I re-work things to create something entirely new for that year,” Sandra said with a smile. “Last year, I didn’t use any greenery and there was nothing white. This year, my mother gave me the Santa Claus and reindeer in the entry hall and it inspired the winter white scene.”
Sandra combines her artistic creativity with a skill in the mechanics of how to improvise and innovate to achieve what she wants. She points to a snowy mountain on her kitchen cabinet. “I made that using a tomato frame as the base.” Her father gives her tools for presents. Her hot glue guns, fishing line and zip ties work behind the scenes to create the energetic movements of the jaunty characters within their lush landscapes. She creates multiple miniature worlds, each one a three-dimensional fantasy.

“I don’t really know what I’m going to do until I start and then I just get into a zone. I don’t have a plan. And I don’t talk. I just feel what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes I have to tear it down and start over. But I love it. I don’t think about time and it doesn’t feel like work,” Sandra said.

The magnitude of what she creates demands an irrepressible imagination and unlimited creativity. And a lot of stuff. Thankfully, she has a large storage area and work space downstairs. Sandra says she’s gotten more ornate over the last four years, but Christmas has always been her favorite time of year. One of her favorite things is her Grandmother’s nativity scene, which she loved as a child. She has a large collection of Mark Roberts’ fairies. She constantly looks for things that intrigue her. This year she added a moose on skis and has him falling off a mountain as spectators watch from above. The idea was suggested by her mother and sister. She describes her Christmas tree theme she said, “Mischief.” Given the striped butts and splayed legs diving into the tree—top and bottom—that seems right. The most magical world is inside Sandra’s mind.

I came back when she finished. The result is jubilant. It is hard to imagine she created unique designs for the foyer, the entry hall alcove, the stair bannister, the upstairs balcony railing, the dining room, the living room Christmas tree, and mantel, the kitchen cabinets, chandeliers and the den built-in bookcases. It is an integrated world of fun and fantasy; a merry, exultant vision.
One might assume Sandra is a woman with nothing but time on her hands. Hardly. She has been married to Murat for 30 years, whom she fell in love with in college. She has two sons—Emre, 29 and Cem, 17. She is a part-time nurse, and a student, working toward her advanced degree as a nurse practitioner. Even a labor of love takes a lot of time and work. Somehow she managed.
I took a final walk around the phantasmagorical universe Sandra created. With each glance, I discovered something new. I’m sure that would be true if I walked around another dozen times. More than all the dazzling lights and sparkle what was illuminated was Sandra’s passion and joy. It was exhilarating.

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