It Takes a Village to Raise the "Smile Factor"

Festive buildings in a holiday village display
A radio station, movie theater and toy store are among the festive winter village buildings in Doug Bowen's display.

If Doug Bowen had his way, it would be Christmas every day.

The Weymouth resident and long-time school custodian, puts his love of Christmas on display each holiday season at the Thomas Hamilton Elementary School, where he works.  

Twinkling lights, running trains, festively lit buildings and figurines fill several tables in the lobby of the school each year from Black Friday until New Year’s Eve.

Father and son checking out a holiday village display
A student and dad check out Doug Bowen's dazzling holiday village display in the lobby of the Thomas Hamilton Elementary School in Weymouth.

Bowen says it takes him nearly 40 hours to build the display of Department 56 and Lemax decorations, but his lengthy labor of love is well worth it when he sees the kids’ smiles and excitement as they return to school the Monday after Thanksgiving break.

“It’s all about the ‘smile factor’,” said Bowen. “I’m determined to get smiles from the kids.”

He gets them from the teachers too, who seem to look forward to Bowen’s display as much as the students. That’s why even during the pandemic, when the students were learning remotely, he still set up the display.  

The teachers would come down to the lobby with their laptops to share the holiday display with their students virtually through Zoom, said Bowen. It was a way to raise spirits during a difficult time for everyone, he said.

A radio station building and skier figurines
An illuminated radio station gives the winter village display a holiday glow.

Bowen has been delighting students and staff at the school with his winter wonderland village since 2007, and for the past four years has been sharing it with the Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center in clinical affiliation with South Shore Hospital.  

Skier figurines on a ski slope
A crowded ski slope is one of the festive features in Doug Bowen's Winter Village Display.

Bowen said he’s grateful for the excellent care his father and other family members received at the Cancer Center and wanted to pay it forward.

Following its holiday run at Hamilton, Bowen brought a smaller version of the winter village to the Cancer Center on Jan. 1, building the display along the windows in the Imaging department’s waiting room.

A lighthouse and buildings in a winter village display
The Winter Village at the Cancer Center featured a farmers market, antique shop, movie theater, ski chalet and even a lighthouse.

The cheerful winter village scene featured a ski slope and chalet, skating rink, radio station, movie theater, antique shop, farmers market, toy store, tattoo parlor, lighthouse, and a heartfelt note from Bowen the builder.   

“At one point or another in previous years, the staff and volunteers have been so supportive in their care and comfort to my closest family and friends that I felt the need to give back,” he wrote.

Ski Chalet in a winter village display
A ski chalet stands at the bottom of the ski slope in the winter village display.

Bowen packed up the display at the Cancer Center on Feb. 7, but plans to bring it back next year and keep upping that “smile factor.”

“I think of all the people who have gone through those doors and what they’re going through and hope this will bring a smile and help someone’s day up there.”


Learn more about cancer care at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center in clinical affiliation with South Shore Hospital.