David Eulitt, The Kansas City Star
Shawn Burton, of Lee's Summit, Missouri, loves Christmas and loves to get a head start on decorating his home early, usually by November 1, 2010. Burton has three Christmas trees in his living room and a total of 18 trees, most of them with themed ornaments, spread through the main level and basement.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Yes, Shawn Burton realizes that plenty of people give Christmas decorating little thought until sometime after their big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day.

He is not one of those people. By Turkey Day, Burton's indoor Christmas stuff — including 19 trees glowing throughout his Lee's Summit, Mo., home — will have been up more than two weeks. And he'll be itching to flip the switch on his outdoor display.

Meanwhile, across town in Leawood, Kan., Betsy Collins is on about the same schedule. The holiday party she's hosting for her book club in early December? Her house is ready.

Her decorating was pretty much wrapped up last Tuesday, when a warm, 70-something breeze made it feel more like opening day for the Royals than a couple of weeks before the lighting of the Country Club Plaza.

The other night, the dad of one of her sons' friends "walked in and went, 'Ahhhh ... Christmas,'" she reports. He looked a bit stunned.

"Everybody thinks I'm crazy, and I probably am," Collins says. "People hate hearing Christmas carols on the radio (so early), and here I am with two wreaths on my door." Not to mention three big, beautiful Christmas trees inside, a garland-covered banister and assorted other festive adornments.

But ...

"I'd rather get it done early and be able to relax," she says.

There've always been some folks so gung ho-ho-ho about Christmas, they can hardly wait for the last trick-or-treater to depart before hauling the tree out of the basement. Their ranks may be growing, too.

"I think it is becoming more acceptable to decorate early for the holidays," says Jan Cummings, chairwoman of the interior design department at Johnson County Community College.

Also, "over probably the last 10 to 15 years, people have really started doing much more than a tree. It's not just the tree and mantel anymore."

Who or what gets the credit/blame for earlier-than-ever Christmas? For one thing, "good old-fashioned retailing," Cummings says. Some stores were pushing holiday trimmings in mid-September.

"For me, and this is strictly personal, not professional, we usually use Thanksgiving weekend as a starting point (for decorating)," Cummings says. "However, I happen to know several people who (last) week had Christmas decorations going up" — indoors and out.

On Nov. 8, Dana Bamvakais of Odessa, Mo., was done with holiday bling "except for one of my bathrooms." Most of it was wrapped up by the third week of October.

Inside her home are trees aplenty. Her 15-year-old daughter's room has a snowman tree topped with top hat. Bamvakais' own bedroom boasts a 7-foot tree, with an upside-down one in an adjacent sitting room.

Christmas was a big deal when she was growing up, "very happy times in my household." And her mom loved decorating.

Beyond that, Bamvakais says, Christmas and all its accoutrements are a celebration of her faith, the birth of Jesus Christ.

Tina Hernandez and her cousin Yolanda Ortiz-Burt, both of Lee's Summit, turn holiday decorating into a contest. Who will get done first? Usually it's Ortiz-Burt, a "phenomenal decorator."

Hernandez attributes her love for all things Christmas — and her zeal for doing it early — to her grandmother. "It was always such a fun tradition to watch her and her niece try to beat each other."

This year, however, Hernandez has fallen behind. She was planning a birthday party for her daughter last week, and she didn't want to be in the middle of holiday decorating at the same time.

LeAnn Barry of Merriam, Kan., however, started putting stuff up a week before Halloween and finished the job before pretty princesses and little Iron Men turned up at her door.

Then again, "I don't know if it's ever really finished," she says.

When she was growing up, her mom would always pull out the holiday boxes, including little animated people, early. Barry hated it.

But when she was 17, after her dad suffered a stroke and her mom went to work, she decided to help out her mother by installing the festive touches herself. And guess what? She decided she liked all the lights and twinkly things.

"You can't be unhappy in a house that's fully decorated for Christmas," Barry says.

"It's a lot of work, but it makes me happy," she adds. "Everybody who comes over loves being at our house."

Back in Lee's Summit, Shawn Burton says his neighbors give him a hard time about unveiling his decorations in early November, but "I have a (lot) of money tied up in them. I like to be able to enjoy them a couple months of the year." His collection includes some 2,500 Hallmark ornaments.

His wife, Beth, has two small trees in a front window — one frog-themed, the other Vegasy — but he's the holiday fanatic. After they met he told her, "You're gonna have to like Christmas to put up with me."

Betsy Collins, meanwhile, found out two years ago how much her family loved her holly-jolly mania. She "kind of went on strike" from decorating. She considered skipping Christmas altogether, suggested a cruise or Hawaiian vacation instead. Her kids — three boys are still at home — were outraged, she says.

Ultimately she put up just what she could in one weekend, including a new tree still in a box in the garage.

"It's not always a happy thing," she says. "It's work to get it all up. I was acting ugly because I was doing it all myself."

Last year, she did a "halfway job." And this year, with the book club on its way, she hired a designer to help. Her sister-in-law always pitches in, too.

Her kids have since shown more enthusiasm for helping.

Despite the stress, Collins and others say it's a great feeling having the house looking pretty as a Christmas card well before Christmas cards actually arrive.

"I don't get tired of it," Collins says of her very own winter wonderland. "I don't. I love it."

Decorating tips from the (almost) pros

Why remove all a tree's ornaments every year? Shawn Burton of Lee's Summit puts big trash bags over most of his 19 decorated trees before storing them in the basement. (This does not work, of course, on huge trees or ones with delicate ornaments.) Burton is obviously organized; all the plastic bins containing holiday decor are neatly labeled.

If you can afford it, hire an interior designer. That person can apply a fresh eye, even if you're not planning to buy anything new.

Spread the joy. Get family members to help.

Cut corners where you can. Betsy Collins of Leawood, after going "on strike" one year, later decided that "some of the details I've gone to such great lengths over" didn't really matter.

Try energy-saving LED lights. Burton switched from the traditional variety and saw a huge improvement in his electricity bill.

Early birds can't use live trees, although they can incorporate fresh elements as Christmas nears. Collins will be adding some poinsettias, pine cones and branches, and magnolia leaves (from Arkansas, where she has family).