It’s always ho, ho, ho for a Santa mugs collector in Texas

DALLAS (AP) — Caroline Nelson is drinking in the holiday season, and she’s got plenty of mugs and holiday spirit to go around.

The Dallas Morning News reports the Park Cities collector doesn’t wait for December to roll around to start thinking about raising a glass to Christmas. She does so year-round while hunting for vintage ceramic Santa mugs to add to her collection, which is closing in on 200 pieces.

“There’s just something so nostalgic about them,” Nelson said of the classic drinkware that features a smiling Santa face. “It’s hard for me to pass them by.”

The mugs often have the tail of the big guy’s hat twisted into a handle. Similar styles are still made today, and have spurred snowmen and reindeer variations. But Nelson is loyal to Santa.

In the five or so years since she started buying the drinkware, the collection has become a full-blown passion.

“I really like to buy them, and I don’t want to stop. So what do I do?”

She and an aunt — an antiques dealer in Colleyville — set out at least once a week to see what they can find. “Every time I come home with a Santa, my kids just sigh and are like,’Moooom,’ “ Nelson said.

She started buying the mugs without realizing that her family had them when she was a child. It took her brother reminding her to recall them from her own past.

The thrill of the hunt — and those jolly little smiles — keep her adding to her collection, and this past year, the hunt got even more exciting when she began collecting vintage glass Christmas baubles.

“I got on a huge ornament kick,” and during a trip to Round Top antique market she bought more than 100 of them.

Nelson appreciates each one for its history and delicate features, fully realizing that their age and dainty design require extra care when handling. But when they break, Nelson’s heart doesn’t. “That just means I get to go back out and hunt again.”

Now that she’s amassed hundreds of the mugs, Nelson has gotten pickier about the Santas she’ll bring home. It’s the facial features that often win her over — rosy cheeks, sparkling eyes, blemish-free foreheads. “They’re all different and hard to resist,” she said.

Nelson, who when she isn’t on the lookout for Christmas collectibles designs and sells jewelry, is willing to overlook scratches and chips for other unique features, including candy-cane striped handles, a double-sided design (she’s got one mug that features Santa on one side and Mrs. Claus on the other) or an unusual size. Her collection now includes several pitchers, punch bowls and cookie jars with the familiar winking face.

While her Santa mugs have had a prominent place in her Park Cities home in Christmases past, this is the first holiday season that Nelson and her children, Campbell, 12, and Charlie, 10, have trimmed their tree exclusively in vintage ornaments.

Much to Nelson’s delight, Campbell, who has been known to grumble when her mom wants to detour to estate sales, was totally on board with the old-world look. “When she was excited about how it turned out, I thought, ‘I’ve finally won her over,’ “ Nelson said.

Back in their heydays, the ceramic mugs and glass ornaments were hugely popular mass-produced items, which means they aren’t hard to find, even today.

Their popularity has soared again in recent years, and so have the price tags that come with them. Nelson’s favorite spots to shop for new additions are flea markets, thrift shops and estate sales.

When you buy from antique malls, Etsy or Ebay, you should expect to pay more, she said. “You’re paying for someone else’s time who went out to find them,” she said.

When you flip over any of Nelson’s Santa mugs, there’s a good chance you’ll find a price tag. “Most of them I paid $1 to $5,” said the collector, who keeps the price on the bottom just for fun.

The bigger Santas in her collection, including the 4 1/2 -foot tall guy greeting guests on her front porch, of course came with bigger price tags. But even with those, Nelson does her best to score the best deal possible. After she spotted the nearly life-size version on Craigslist, she waited till after the season to get him — at a reduced price.

Most of the vintage ornaments Nelson has been able to snag for $2 or $3 a piece. Larger varieties or those with the indented reflectors are higher, but she said she generally won’t pay more than $15 for one.

For Nelson, finding the vintage piece is only the start of the fun. She also delights in finding the right place in her home to showcase it.

Every December, holiday vignettes spring up throughout her home. One of her tricks to keep her festive-filled shelves from looking like warehouse storage is to add in a variety of textures, heights and pieces. Bottlebrush trees, poinsettias and books add interest while keeping the focus on the Santa mugs.

Her vintage ornament collection not only fills her Christmas tree’s branches, but also adds holiday cheer as centerpieces and adornments on tabletops throughout the home in glass apothecary jars, brass trays and bowls.