For hundreds of years, Santa Claus has been celebrated as the ultimate symbol of Christmas by people across America. And for hundreds of years, that symbol has given many people the joy and hope they seek during the holidays.
For Tooele resident Mae Paxman, 83, Santa is special. Paxman has been collecting hand-crafted and store-bought Santa figurines since the late 1980s when her husband gave her her first Santa.
“The Santa Claus that started it all was my cowboy Santa,” Paxman said, pointing to her foot-tall Santa dressed in a cowboy outfit on a shelf in her living room. “My husband gave him to me in 1987.”
Paxman is originally from Annapolis, Md., but moved to Tooele in 1967 after meeting her husband, who was in the U.S. Army. They lived in Tooele until 1995 when they moved to Wendover for about a decade. They moved back to Tooele in 2004 after Paxman’s husband fell ill.
Her husband was diagnosed with throat cancer and soon passed away. After Paxman received her first Santa, she had started to collect Santas here and there over the years, but it wasn’t until her husband passed away that she started to collect avidly.
“I’m glad my husband started my collection for me,” Paxman said. “It really picked up when he passed away in memory of him. He loved the holidays and it’s a good way to remember him.”
Paxman’s family has started to give her Santas that reflect some of her husband’s favorite hobbies, such as a Santa who’s fishing and a Santa who’s holding a football. She’s got them placed on the shelf in her living room next to the cowboy Santa.
“My grandkids are now looking for a baseball Santa, because my husband liked baseball too,” she said. “I don’t know where they’ll find one, but they’re looking for me.”
Paxman has around 60 Santas in her collection, but each year she adds about five more. Last year, her neighbors and family gave her a total of six Santas, and so far this year, she’s already purchased five. Paxman buys her Santas from a range of places — from the Bradford Exchange to Walmart — to give her collection diversity.
That collection ranges from Santas that are ceramic and just a few inches tall, to one that is fabric with a painted face and about 3 feet tall. She even has a singing, booty-shaking Santa that is a favorite of her greatgrandchildren when they come to visit.
Paxman also has several Santas that were handcrafted by her husband. She has two ceramic mugs with Santa faces on them that he made. He also made her two Mr. and Mrs. Claus figurines out of bottles and cotton. In addition, Paxman has two Santas in her collection that have bodies made of Slinkies and suits that were crocheted by a friend’s sister.
Because of her large collection, Paxman said its takes her about four days to set all the Santas up, and another four days after Christmas to take them down and put them away.
Paxman doesn’t mind the work, though, because she believes Santa is an important symbol of Christmas. Having so many Santas strewn across her living room — and even one painted on her thumbnail — has helped her since her husband passed away.
“Santa is important because he gives people hope,” she said. “He brings out the good in people.” Tooele resident Mae Freestone, 75, also collects Santas. For her, it’s all about the find and having something fun to do around the holidays. She started collecting Santas about 15 years ago, and now has close to 20 in her collection. “I just picked one up one day and bought it, and since then I’ve been collecting,” she said.
“I get one or two to add to my collection every year. I didn’t really get going on my collection until I retired and had more time and more money to spend on what I wanted. But after 15 years, they’ve started to add up.”
Like Paxman, Freestone has a very diverse collection. She looks for the most unique Santas she can find.
“They’re all different,” she said. “When I look for them, I look for different styles.”
Freestone’s favorite Santas in her collection are the most whimsical ones — like a white, slender Santa who is wearing a snowman for a hat and a red and white foot-tall Santa that has sharp angles, a glossy finish and a modern look.
Freestone has purchased all of the Santas in her collection herself, and typically finds them in craft stores or Christmas stores in the Salt Lake area.
“I just enjoy them,” she said. “It’s just a fun and whimsical thing to do.”
Freestone didn’t have any particular reason why she initially started collecting Santas, but she agrees that over the years, Santa has been the perfect symbol of hope and happiness to her.
“Santa brings joy and happiness to everyone, especially all the small children,” she said. “He is just the ultimate symbol of happiness.”