North Huntingdon couple turns tragedy into holiday joy for children
Each winter, a modest home in North Huntingdon is transformed into what affectionately is known as Santaland to neighborhood children.
Glittering garland, cheery trinkets and thousands of ornaments are splashed throughout the home to celebrate a holiday that once was a reminder of a family's tragedy. Cathy and Bob Rajcan, who spent their first Christmas together in mourning, have made it a mission to make each Christmas a little more spectacular than the last.
“My mother died on Christmas Eve,” Cathy Rajcan said.
It was the couple's first Christmas together in 1988, but the holiday was the furthest thing from their minds.
The next year, they decided to turn the tragedy into a chance to bring joy to others. Cathy Rajcan always had enjoyed decorating, so she took advantage of every inch of their home.
This year, the couple has decorated 18 Christmas trees throughout their home. There are a few smaller decorated trees in the backyard.
“I remember (my mother's death), but I'm living, and I want to make somebody else happy,” Cathy Rajcan said. “Everybody has a purpose. This is mine.”
The couple spends about 20 hours — a few each day during a week — to decorate every room in their home, as well as the yard. In addition to the trees, Cathy Rajcan displays ornaments that have been passed down through generations of her family, antique toys and singing stuffed animals.
This year, the Rajcan family took on decorating and displaying 18 Christmas trees in their home, which is more than they ever have attempted. Among themes for the trees are childhood memories, Peanuts characters, nutcrackers, candy, gingerbread, family vacations, the White House, Penguins hockey and the beach.
“She makes the house a home,” Bob Rajcan said. “I put the trees up, and she decorates. I'm amazed at how she lays everything out in her head. It's different every year.”
When they aren't spending time admiring the decorations, they're out making appearances as Santa and Mrs. Claus. The couple stumbled into the roles back when their oldest son was in preschool, and the Santa originally assigned to class suddenly canceled.
Cathy Rajcan played an elf that year but decided she was a better fit as Mrs. Claus. Over the past 18 years, the couple has continued to make appearances throughout North Huntingdon and Irwin.
“We like to see the kids' happy faces,” Bob Rajcan said. “It's really touching. The look on the face of a person that's 80 or 90 years old is the same on a 4-year-old's. They're a child again.”
Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.