The Most Wonderful Time
Lasting joy in the Raley home
Photos by Don Risi
It’s a sweltering July morning when Susan Raley invites us into her Norman home. “Merry Christmas,” she says with a chuckle. “Please come in. It may not feel like Christmas outside, but in here, we always have a little holiday spirit going on.”
Raley is taking us on a walkthrough of the home she and her husband Jeff built 11 years ago. She is the chair of Operation School Bell, a project that helps clothe Norman-area children who are on the reduced lunch program. Jeff, meanwhile, is a practicing lawyer, and served 17 years as Norman’s city attorney.
“We just love Christmas,” she says, “so we typically leave at least two trees up all year. Jeff has one in his office that is western-themed, and then in the den upstairs we have the OU tree. We never put those away.”
As December approaches, though, the Raley house is transformed into a Christmas wonderland that would make Clark Griswold jealous.
Entering the home, guests are greeted by a magnificent 12-foot tree, shimmering with twinkling lights and elegant Christopher Radko ornaments.
“I began collecting Christopher Radko back in the early 1980s,” Raley says. “Each year, I try to add something new, but I must admit I am running out of room on the tree. We typically place this tree in the foyer by the staircase, and it makes a nice focal point. One year the tree was still up in March when I had knee surgery. By summer, my knee was still bothering me, so I just decided to leave the tree up. And I never got tired of it.”
The formal living room has a massive stone fireplace adorned with boughs of holly and colorful stockings, while a floor-to-ceiling display shelf holds a collection of illuminated glass Santas, glowing in all their holiday glory.
Elsewhere in the house, the kitchen gets its own tasteful Christmas whimsy. A charming gingerbread house adorns one counter, surrounded by jars of peppermint candy, nutcrackers and vintage holiday glassware.
“This is where we spend most of our time,” she says as we move into the family room. “And here is my famous ‘Elf Butt Tree.’”
Did she say, “Elf Butt?”
“I have this collection of elves I always put on this tree,” Raley explains. “But one year, an elf fell over, and all you could see was his derriere sticking up out of the tree. I thought it was kind of cute, so I turned a few more elves around, and that’s how my ‘Elf Butt Tree’ was born.”
Raley works with her decorator, Jeri Saliba, in transforming the house into central Oklahoma’s own version of the North Pole.
“Jeri and I can do most of the decorating in three days,” she says. “Then it takes about three months to take it all down! We have a room we upstairs that we had built specifically for storing Christmas items. We call it the ‘Funny Room,’ and that’s where all of the tubs are stored … through the year.”
The Raleys grew up in Pawhuska, and moved to Norman to attend the University of Oklahoma. Their Sooner pride is on display in the den upstairs, a space they call their “OU Room.” Photos of Barry Switzer, Bob Stoops and various OU football stars fill the walls.
“The OU tree stays up all year,” Susan says. “We have it wrapped in red and white ribbon, footballs and OU-themed ornaments. During fall football season, we always keep it lit.”
The Raleys enjoy entertaining family and friends at the holidays, and last year, the home played host to their daughter’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. Their daughter lives nearby and their son and his family live in Dallas.
“The house really comes alive at Christmas,” she says. “It is warm and inviting, and friends are always welcome here. I have loved Christmas since I was little – and I believe it really is the most wonderful time of the year.”