One local business owner has embraced tradition with his company’s holiday celebration: a Christmas Mass

By Tom Connolly     12/17/2018

Tim Buckley continues to embrace the Christmas holidays in a manner that is quite different from many other businesses. Buckley founded Vintage Design 33 years ago, a family-owned and operated full service design center and flooring subcontractor for homebuilders and homebuyers located in Lake Forest. Nearly 20 years ago, he transposed his company’s annual Christmas celebration from a secular hotel dinner party to an early morning Mass, breakfast and associate recognitions.  

Buckley, 63, turned away from the contemporary Christmas party template in 2000 and began hosting a holiday celebration for the company’s 300 associates at the company’s headquarters in Irvine.   

The transformation has been so successful Buckley calls it his ‘favorite day of the year.’ 

“Many years ago we held our company’s Christmas celebration at a hotel,” said Buckley, who was a 2018 Bishop Award Honoree for Exemplary Business Integrity at the Orange Catholic Foundation’s annual Conference on Business and Ethics. “I found there was too much alcohol being drunk and too many inappropriate conversations taking place and I don’t think anything good happens after 11:30 at night. That’s not the image I wanted to project. So 18 years ago I contacted a priest friend of mine, Father Mike Pontarelli, a former classmate of mine from Servite High School, and asked if he would celebrate Mass to help us celebrate our Christmas season, and he was happy to do so.” 

Buckley credits the involvement of Father Pontarelli, the pastor at St. Juliana Falconieri in Fullerton, as a critical ingredient for making the celebration a huge success.  

“Father Mike is the pulse of the Mass and his homilies are focused on the associates and the valuable work they do,” said Buckley. “He makes it so special. It is truly the best day of the year for me and I receive a lot of positive feedback. We get about 98 percent participation from our associates and their families. We’re not trying to convert anybody, but I hope they gain more faith and grow from it.” 

Pontarelli said it’s an enjoyable event for him as well.  

“It’s one of the easiest homilies to do every year. I love celebrating the Mass and I look forward to doing it each year,” said Father Pontarelli. “It’s really about thanking the workers. The installers for Tim’s company are the ‘guts’ of the company. They beautify the people’s homes and that’s what we are called to do individually each Advent. Advent is a season of hope and expectation.  

“To start a Christmas party with Mass is wonderful. I feel really appreciated by all of the associates. I’ve had Catholics and non-Catholics come up to me after Mass and ask to hear their confessions or ask for a special blessing or guidance because they haven’t been to Mass in a long time. It’s an interesting bunch and I’ve had many wonderful conversations with many of them. I admire Tim and his generosity. He has donated carpet and flooring to St. Juliana’s and the San Juan Capistrano Mission and so much more. He’s a generous guy.”   

Following the celebration, Buckley said he receives numerous emails, notes and phone calls of thanks.  

“I’m biased but I think it sends the right message,” Buckley added. “Our business relies on our integrity and keeping promises that we make. It’s part of our culture and we try to practice it every day in our business.”   

Another significant part of the Mass has been the participation over the past five years of the St. Monica’s Church Choir from Santa Monica.     

“We come complete with electric guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and the Mass has a lot of energy,” said Jeffrey Bonilla, the director of music for the Santa Monica Catholic Community. “It also provides a great opportunity for our group to share some fellowship away from St. Monica’s.  

“We bring about 10 folks from our choir and it’s a lovely event and Tim takes such very good care of us. He rents us a big comfortable car, puts us up in a hotel the night before and makes a very generous donation each year to our choir.” 

After mass, each associate is recognized for his or her valuable service to the company. 

“Some of our associates have been with us for 20-25 years and they make it a heartwarming day and we all share in the success as a family,” Buckley said. “It may sound corny, but I feel we are a family.” 

Associates, including field installers and reps, are given apparel gifts, such as hats, shirts, beanies, sweaters, jackets and hoodies as a sign of the company’s appreciation.  

Following the completion of the recognitions, the warehouse is converted back to a place of business and everyone goes back to work.  

For Buckley, he truly believes that showing his gratitude to the associates is what the Christmas season is all about and in this day and age, it’s a breath of fresh air to witness a company conduct its business in such a spiritual tradition.