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Santa Bonanza
Rockdale resident has close to 1,000 figurines

Rockdale resident Elaine Conner's collection of roughly 1,000 Santas covers almost every horizontal space in her home - shelves, curio cabinets, the fireplace, end tables, dressers. And one of the first questions that comes to mind is how did this Santa extravaganza ever get started? Conner has a very simple explanation.

"Thirty-eight years ago, December 12, I had my last child and my mother-in-law gave me a ceramic Santa instead of flowers and it just kind of evolved from there," said Conner.

Conner begins setting up the Santas in October and usually finishes in about three weeks, thanks to a highly organized storage system. She keeps the Santas in boxes labeled with the contents and the location where they are to be displayed. Every room in the three-bedroom, two bathroom ranch-style home is filled with figures of jolly old St. Nicholas.

Some of the more unique Santas include an Emmett Kelly Jr. Santa (Conner is also an Emmett Kelly figure collector), a four-foot tall vacuum cleaner cover that looks like Santa, and figures of jiggling Santas in little outhouses (she keeps those in the bathroom). All of the Santas attract the little fingers of her grandchildren, especially the outhouses.

"I come in here (to the bathroom) and you always know when someone's been peaking," said Conner.

Some of her collection has themes, such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's and the University of Georgia, and Santa is displayed in a variety of settings, such as playing sports, relaxing at the beach, or dressed as a cowboy.

Conner said she buys some of the Santas and she receives others as gifts. The Santas come from all over the world including Hawaii, Germany and the Bahamas.

"They're like children - you don't have a favorite. You love them all," said Conner, whose family includes husband William, three grown and married sons, and six grandchildren.

Conner also displays a Christmas tree and a nativity scene in each room.

"I like to have a nativity scene in every room so the kids remember the meaning of Christmas," said Conner.

Growing up in Lithonia, Conner said her family never made a big deal out of Christmas, but when she began a family of her own she wanted to change that approach.

"I wanted my children to remember Christmas and I wanted my grandchildren to remember coming to Maw-maws and Pop's," said Conner, who's lived in Conyers for 43 years.

In addition to Conner's family, youth from her church, Milstead Baptist, as well as numerous friends visit Conner's home during the holidays to view her collection. Conner also plays Mrs. Claus at her church's Christmas celebration.

"Santa just kind of represents the spirit of Christmas, of love and giving, and that's what I like to do at Christmas," she said.