Marlene and Jay Gillman know how to do the holidays right, living in a home dripping with Christmas décor that would rival Santa’s most spirited workshop.

The longtime Killeen residents built their dream home in 1986, shortly before Jay Gillman retired from the Army after 30 years.

The decorating began in the last 25 years as their four children left home.

“That’s when I got passionate about it,” Marlene Gillman said.

Every year, the family gives each grown child an ornament, and whenever a grandchild is married, he or she will receive a new artificial tree to help them get a start.

“It’s fantastic,” Jay Gillman said of his wife’s work. “I’m extremely proud of the way she’s stepped it up each year.” As for his role in the festivities, “I drag it in and out of the garage.”

The centerpiece of their home this year is Marlene Gillman’s collection of nutcrackers.

More than 120 soldiers line the walls of three rooms in the Gillman residence.

“I won the first one as a door prize” more than 10 years ago, Marlene Gillman said. “Then he got lonely, so he got a friend, and then he got a family. If you close your eyes, they multiply overnight.”

The colorful characters range in height from 5 inches to nearly 5 feet.

Each one is labeled on the bottom with the name of its future recipient, one of her eight grandchildren.

“The nutcrackers exploded this year,” she said, since she didn’t put them up last year, and collected a number of them in the meantime.

One nutcracker is a police officer, in honor of her Killeen police officer son. Each one just fits, she said.

“I love Christmas,” Marlene Gillman said, with a laugh. “It’s a chance to redecorate the entire home.”

Though they live less than a mile from the most bustling Killeen corridors, the couple’s home sits on a plot of land large enough to house barn animals.

“It’s in the city but has a rural, open feel,” Marlene Gillman said. “It’s a lovely way to live.”

The Christmas theme isn’t relegated to only the front of the house. Each bedroom has a Christmas tree in it, complete with its own theme.

For Marlene Gillman, living in government quarters for the first half of her marriage inspired her desire to decorate.

“When you get older, there’s room for more. You’re more prosperous and you appreciate it more,” she said.

She purchases items year-round for her holiday décor. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money to decorate elegantly.”

Contact Madison Lozano​ at or 254-501-7552.

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