At the end of a Lake Murray vista cul-de-sac, Ann and Chester Floyd’s home glows from the inside out; their front door is an entrance to an exquisite Christmas wonderland. Magnificent green trees adorned with red and gold glisten over scenes of Santa, snow-laden singers, and the swaddled Savior, who is the cause for this immaculate celebration. Ann’s eyes spark with wonder as she stands in her foyer, surrounded by all this winter whimsy. In her home, Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of year.
Ann has always loved Christmas but recalls much humbler holidays as a child. Her family celebrated around a miniature Christmas tree balanced on an old-timey window unit each year. Although they didn’t have much, her mother and father did their best to make Christmas meaningful and memorable for Ann and her brother. Her mother always ensured she had a doll under their modest tree, even though Ann, a self-proclaimed tomboy, preferred riding horses to brushing doll hair.
Ann will never forget the year that her father decided to sell Christmas trees at his Lake City grocery store. “Ann, you can pick out any tree you want,” he told her. Ann picked out such a large tree that her father had to lop off the top to fit it in their house. It filled the living room with the aroma of pine and the awe of Christmas. It was her own Christmas miracle and the beginning of a passion that would grow for the next 50 years.
Like Ann, Chester remembers much simpler times as a child. Chester, the second youngest of seven children, grew up on a 56-acre tobacco and cotton farm in rural Florence County. As a child, Chester recalls show-and-tell time in school after the holidays. As boys and girls went around sharing what they received for Christmas, Chester remembers feeling like the whole exercise was a cruel and unnecessary comparison game. He swore that if he ever became a teacher, he would never make a child feel the way he felt during those sharing times. “Looking back on it, I’m so grateful I grew up where I did and with the parents I had,” says Chester. “It was a good way to grow up, but it was hard.”
In 1965, Chester graduated from Newberry College with a degree in mathematics, a teaching job at Barnwell High School, and his beautiful bride, Ann. “I graduated on Sunday, and we got married on Thursday,” says Chester. It was just the beginning of a 50-year career as an educator serving as teacher, principal, and superintendent throughout South Carolina. But in those early days, Chester made $5,000 a year at Barnwell High and rented a house for $40 a month.
“We were just coming along, and we were as happy as we could be,” says Ann.
In 1968, Chester was drafted into the Army. He remembers preparing for his physical to enter the Army when Ann announced she was pregnant. “At that time, if you were teaching math or if your wife was pregnant, you didn’t have to go into the service,” says Chester. Fortunately for him, this young math teacher and soon-to-be-father could stay home with Ann and welcome their first child. Just two years later, they would have another little boy. Ann and Chester set out to give their sons the most memorable Christmas possible. “Over the years, we’ve tried to make Christmas as good as we could for our two boys,” says Ann.
Ann enjoyed making simple cross-stitch decorations for their Christmas trees in those early days. “Even when we first got married, we had a live Christmas tree, but I didn’t collect much. We just wanted to be able to give our kids things we couldn’t have,” says Ann. Chester knew farmers in the area that would allow their family to cut down a live tree each year. But one particular year, Ann recalls setting up a silver aluminum tree and decorating it in bright blue ornaments for her boys. “I thought we had really made it then,” Ann says as she shakes her head, remembering the spectacle.
As Chester’s opportunities in administration grew, he would often attend conferences around the country. Ann enjoyed accompanying her husband to these events and would wander the local shops in her downtime. One trip to Orlando, Florida, in the early 2000s, was particularly memorable to Ann. “I walked from the hotel to the closest shopping center,” she says. As she searched each window, something extraordinary caught her eye. A fairy figurine dressed in an elaborate green outfit with burgundy trim accents stood frozen in time in a Christmas wonderland. Ann studied each component and noted the originality and meticulous attention to detail. It was elegant, sophisticated, and would be an ideal accent for her Christmas tree.
That day, the shop owner introduced Ann to Mark Roberts’ Christmas Fairies and her new Christmas obsession. “They were just so different. The garments are so beautifully done,” says Ann. She learned that at the time, Roberts only made one fairy a year, but the shop owner carried six years of fairies in the store. “I bought all six fairies that day,” Ann says. “I told the owner, ‘I don’t know how in the world I’m going to get back to my hotel with all these boxes!’” The grateful shop owner made sure that Ann and her fairies had a ride and escorted her back to her room. “I called Chester and said, ‘You are going to have a stroke when you walk in here,’” says Ann. “I had boxes everywhere. I got the bug then, and I’ve still got it now.”
For the next several years, family and friends fed Ann’s obsession by giving her fairies on every occasion. She even made a memorable trip to Myrtle Beach to meet Mark Roberts at a Christmas show one year. She smiled for a picture with Mark and was delighted to receive a print with his signature in the mail a few weeks later. Her collection has grown to more than 125 of Mark Roberts’ masterpieces. Chester sighs as he looks adoringly at Ann. “Now I live in a house full of fairies,” he says.
Eventually, Ann branched out and began collecting Byers’ Choice iconic Caroler figurines. Just as she admired Roberts’ work, Ann adored the intricate designs of these Pennsylvania-made people. Ironically, artist Joyce Byers began crafting the Carolers in the late 1960s in response to the elaborate aluminum trees with garish blue decor that once graced Ann’s living room. Byers wanted her handmade Carolers to represent a simpler time and way of life. Each Caroler is clothed with unique fabrics, ribbons, and laces mixed in various combinations. Their clay faces are crafted with an impressionistic technique to bring each one to life. No two Carolers are exactly alike. It was this attention to detail and the nostalgia for simpler times with which Ann fell in love. Her Caroler collection has grown to an impressive 75 figurines.
“When I got the bug, I got it bad. I really did,” admits Ann. “I think it’s because we didn’t have the room for a big tree when I was growing up.” Now, Ann has at least one Christmas tree in each room of her house. As Ann begins her preparations in September and October, Chester carries boxes meticulously labeled and organized from their Christmas storage room downstairs. She carefully unwraps each piece and sets about decorating. Not a surface is neglected. Dressers are decked with reindeer, and red and white blankets are bundled on beds, ready to welcome guests of all ages.
Ann and Chester refuse to keep all their Christmas cheer to themselves. Over the years, they have opened their home for work Christmas parties, Sunday school groups, and individuals seeking some Christmas spirit. “We don’t want to lose the meaning of Christmas,” says Chester. “All of this is to celebrate the birth of Christ. Human nature is to get caught up in all the decorations and forget about what it is really all about.”
Although Chester is the longest-serving superintendent in South Carolina history — totaling 38 years — his greatest pride is his family. Ann and Chester now enjoy making Christmas memories with six adoring grandchildren. “I especially love to shop for the girls,” says Ann. “I love giving, and they like getting. Over the years, I’ve spoiled them pretty good.” After opening presents under Ann and Chester’s extravagant evergreens, Chester and his boys gather around their outdoor kitchen overlooking Lake Murray and cook crab legs, fried fish, and boiled shrimp for the family. Ann has already been busy for days baking and assembling sweets to share. She dishes out cookies in a kitchen filled with Carolers, colorful fairies, and cheerful children.
“To me, all of this just makes me feel good,” says Ann about her affection for Christmas decor galore. “It makes me so happy.”
Chester smiles at Ann as her winter wonderland surrounds him. “She has made life better for both of us.”