Lisa Botts isn’t quite sure how her collection of Santa Claus figurines got started, only that she had never had to buy a single one for herself.
Every Santa Claus, every St. Nicholas and every Kris Kringle displayed on her mantel were gifts from friends and family members.
“The collection built up in starts and spurts,” she said.
Her husband, Nick Botts, said that his cousin, Bob, and Bob’s wife, Diane, gave Lisa her first figurine of the jolly old elf back in 1983.
“That got the ball rolling,” Nick said.
“That was also the year we got married,” Lisa noted.
She now has about 100 Santa figurines in her collection, ranging from wind-up toys to exquisitely carved wood sculptures.
Her seasonal display is showcased on a cherry wood mantel hand-carved by her father, Harris Bristol, who worked as a wood-working teacher at Elizabethton High School for many years.
The Santa figures range in size from inch-tall miniatures to some that are more than a foot tall. Beyond the mantel display, Lisa also has Santa magnets on her refrigerator, a “Santa chef” in the kitchen and some Santa ornaments on the family Christmas tree.
Many of the items in the collection hold special family memories.
Lisa’s mother, Betty, gave her two of the Santas, including a Santa made from a painted gourd that she bought at the Christmas Craft Show held for years at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.
“She also got me a music box Santa,” Lisa said.
“Two of my aunts — Portia Pearson and the late Gladys Trivette — gave me a lot of them as Christmas gifts,” Lisa said.
One of the Santa Claus figurines was given posthumously as a Christmas gift from her aunt Gladys.
“After my aunt passed away, her daughter found one of them that her mother had bought for me and gave it to me that Christmas,” Lisa said.
Some of the Santas are made from fabric, glass, wood and paper. She even has one Santa Claus fashioned from a garden gourd. The collection includes Santa Claus snow globes and wax candles.
Lisa also has a set of Russian “nesting” Santa Clauses, each of which can fit snugly inside the other. Other unique items in the collection include Santas fashioned in the shape of a bell.
The collection, unlike Santa’s rotund waistline, is no longer expanding.
“I ran out of room, and I had to stop collecting them,” Lisa said.
“I’d need another mantel to display more,” she joked.
In 2005, after the collection was already quite large, she got the idea to write on the base of each figurine to record who gave the item to her and when the gift was given.
“Some years, I wonder if I even want to put them out,” she admitted, but added that she always decides to bring them out for another Christmas season.
Every December, the Santa collection comes out of storage and takes its place on the mantel, replacing the collection of antique pharmacy items on display the rest of the year.
Nick’s father, Bill Botts, was a pharmacist in Big Stone Gap. His pharmacy was known as Botts Drug and Variety Store.
The couple are the parents of two children. Son John graduated Dec. 14 from East Tennessee State University. Daughter Julie is a junior at ETSU.
Lisa admits to a penchant for collecting. In addition to amassing her assortment of Santa Clauses, she also collects cookbooks, as well as antique metal doll houses on display throughout the Botts home.