VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — For three decades, Santa Claus has come in second place in popularity in Virginia Beach’s Homestead neighborhood.
So, who’s in first? Local ornament maker Ron Harriman.
“I’ve been so busy today I didn’t even have time to eat supper,” Harriman, 93, said while sitting in his garage shortly before 6 p.m. Monday.
Every year since 1989, Harriman has hosted his neighborhood for a night of hot chocolate, cookies and Christmas carols at his home.
Santa also makes an appearance, but the gift everyone really wants is one of Harriman’s homemade ornaments.
“This is my happiness, my life,” Harriman said.
With the encouragement of his late wife, Harriman began designing, cutting and painting wooden ornaments as gifts for friends. A longtime draftsman for Norfolk Southern Railroad, the skills came easy — but the new joy came even easier.
“I loved it from day one,” Harriman said.
Christmas is truly a year round activity for Harriman. He starts thinking of a design in January and must draw it out to make sure he “feels good about it.”
Once he makes a choice, he starts off in his workshop making six ornaments at a time. This year, he chose to make make everyone bluebirds.
“Get tireder now than I used to,” Harriman said, adding that nephropathy in his feet makes the process take a little longer.
His favorite part? Painting.
“I enjoy watching the paint flow off my brush,” Harriman said with a laugh.
A lot of paint, at that. In total Harriman will make 350 ornaments each year. He completed this batch in July.
“I just get so much back from it, you can’t believe,” Harriman said as children began to arrive Monday.
Many of the children ran up to him, embracing him with a hug before picking their ornament off the artificial tree. Each one has the number ornament it was, Ron’s name, the year and “30 Years” to remember the occasion.
“I thought about how much work it was, but then after a day or two I thought that wasn’t work, that was all fun,” Harriman said. “A lot of people tell me I should sell my ornaments and not give them away. No … that wouldn’t be the same thing.”
Neighbors say it wouldn’t be Christmas without the annual gift.
“Definitely what the Christmas spirit is all about, you know,” said Crystal Gallaher, who grew up across the street. “It was a tradition for me and my brother, and now that we both have kids, and we get to bring our kids over, and they get an ornament every year — it’s just cool to see the tradition continue.”
And Harriman said he plans to continue it, too.
“People appreciate it and stuff,” Harriman said. “It fits the spirit of Christmas. It really does.”