Here Comes Santa
By Karon Warren | Photography courtesy of Leah Michelle Bullock
With more than 6,000 Santas in her collection, Linda Sokovich carries on a family tradition.
When Linda Sokovich’s mother, Norma Jean Clinton, started collecting Santa Claus mementos more than 40 years ago, Sokovich never imagined that collection would take over her life.
Walk into Sokovich’s extra bedroom at home in Collins, Mississippi, and you’ll think you’ve entered a Christmas shop filled with Santa Claus-themed collectibles. The jolly old elf smiles back from a Christmas tree, row after row of shelves, in groups on the floor and even from the walls. In fact, there’s barely any room left that does not contain a Santa in some form or another.
Although Sokovich, age 65, can’t remember exactly how many Santas she has, she’s certain it’s more than 6,000 pieces.
“I never dreamed that I could have something like this,” she says. “One Santa Claus became more than 6,000. They all make me happy, the grandeur of it. I enjoy people coming to see it.”
Of course, the collection overflows with Christmas ornaments, figurines and stuffed Santa dolls. But you’ll also find painted oyster shells featuring Santa, a corn cob fashioned to look like Santa, cookie jars, salt and pepper shakers, birdhouses, jewelry, clothes, dishes, crystal Santas, Coca-Cola Santas, college-themed Santas, and famous characters dressed as Santa (think Smurfs, The Grinch, etc.).
She even has pieces from England and Germany. And don’t forget the egg decorated with Santa on it. One of her favorite pieces combines two of her favorite things: Santa Claus and teaching. Now retired, Sokovich taught high school math for 25 years. The collectible actually shows Santa teaching math (addition problems displayed on a chalkboard) to a class full of young Santas seated at desks.
“There are no repeats of anything,” Sokovich says. “When I’m out shopping, I know instantly if I have it at home. Every now and then there’s something exciting to see.”
That’s quite impressive given that it’s taken more than 40 years to amass such a collection. It all started with Sokovich’s mother.
“My mother has everything so we tried thinking of something she enjoyed,” Sokovich says.
Santa Claus was the answer, and, before long, Clinton had quite a growing collection of the Christmas mainstay. Sokovich estimates her mother collected Santas for 20 to 25 years before Sokovich took over approximately 20 years ago.
The mother-daughter duo often finds Santa Claus collectibles at Goodwill stores, thrift shops and yard sales. And, not surprisingly, they also receive Santas from family and friends.
“I don’t spend a lot on it,” Sokovich says. “It’s the thrill of the hunt. My husband hunts deer, and I hunt Santa Clauses.”
When the collection overtook Clinton’s home, Sokovich packed up all the Santas and stored them away. However, after her own children were grown and moved out of the house, she and her husband, Charlie, pulled them out, unpacked them, and displayed them in an extra bedroom. That’s where the Santas have resided ever since.
Sokovich says her husband of 46 years never even questioned the collection or putting it on display.
“I think he’s just used to me doing strange things,” she says. “He’s proud of it, too. He buys me something for it every year.”
Not surprisingly, her four grandchildren love coming to see the Santas, too.
Today, Sokovich welcomes everyone to stop by and see the Santa Clauses. In fact, to help keep track of the visitors who come to see her collection, Sokovich maintains a guest book for people to sign when they stop by the house to check out the Santas. Right now, she estimates there are more than 2,000 signatures.
Two years ago, she hosted an open house for those interested to come check out the collection. But folks don’t have to wait for an open house to stop by. They can contact her through Facebook to schedule a time.
“It’s becoming well-known,” Sokovich says. “I don’t mind if everyone comes. I really love for people to bring their kids.”
She says that even when the pest control man comes for his regular service visit, he will take pictures of the Santas to send to his children.
While it may seem like Sokovich has every kind of Santa Claus imaginable, there’s still a noticeable absence of one particular St. Nick she wants: An Asian Santa. Sokovich would like to have one to honor her granddaughter who was adopted from China.
After all, it’s family that inspires Sokovich to carry on the collection. She says it’s a continuation of what her mother started.
“She’s the sweetest thing in the world,” Sokovich says of her mother. “I don’t remember having a fuss with her. These Santa Clauses are something we’ve done together, and I just carry on.”