Santa Claus plays the saxophone. That jolly fellow rides a magic carpet. He sleeps barefoot in his bed. Santa bakes rolls. He carries wrapped gifts on the front of a hefty stein. And he also wears a cowboy hat. Nobody needs to trek to the North Pole to get a peek at these fun Santas. Just say hello-ho-ho to them at the Santa Claus Museum in Columbus, roughly an hour and a half drive from Austin.
This tiny, Santa-filled house is a heartwarming adventure for anyone that loves Santa Claus. You can easily spend a few hours looking over the more than 3,000 Santas along the walls, in the glass cases, on the Christmas trees, and on and on.
Tall, short. Ceramic, wooden. Big-bellied, thin. Nearly 3,000 Santa Clauses in all shapes, sizes, and materials decorate the shelves, walls, and other display areas in two rooms of a humble building not far from the Colorado County Courthouse. Among the items sporting white beards and a red suit, Santa is painted on an oblong gourd, with a long neck that gradually bulges out into his large stomach. Nesting dolls show the beloved holiday icon in different sizes, while another area shows off the famed Coca-Cola versions of dear Santa.
Behind a clear enclosure stands a nearly life-size Santa who used to be displayed at a department store. From toys to showpieces, Santas are depicted on jump rope handles, a watch, and a Pez dispenser. Santa looms out of a jack-in-the-box. He appears on a jigsaw puzzle. A few Mrs. Clauses grace the place, too.
“The kids absolutely love” a Santa face that plays holiday tunes after pressing his rubbery nose, said Charlotte Tilotta, a board member of the Columbus Historical Preservation Trust, which owns the museum. The small museum, touted as the “only Santa Claus museum in the South,” opened in 1990. Originally it housed the collection of Mary Elizabeth Hopkins, born in 1913. She was just six months old when she got her first Santa, which can be seen at the museum, wearing a somewhat faded outfit.
“He was played with a lot,” said Ester Chandler, also of the Preservation Trust. “She collected Santas pretty much her whole life.” By the time Hopkins died, her collection had grown extensively. Those were donated to the Preservation Trust, and the museum got its start.
In 2019, two more families donated their collections; the museum opened a second room, and it has been freshened up overall to show off the many variations of that rosy-cheeked man. The Preservation Trust hopes to further enlarge the museum one day. “It’s still a work in progress,” Tilotta said. All the collections are from local residents, she said. “That makes it more endearing to us.”
In the middle of the front room is a red and white mailbox that has a sign that says “Letters to Santa.”
Figurines of Santa Claus also show how he looked in other cultures, said Chandler; “Santa was very skinny,” she said, pointing to one figurine. “Over in Europe, they tended to be leaner for a time period.” One tiny Santa appears to be about a quarter-inch tall.
Signs offer tidbits of Santa trivia, for example, “In the 1930s, Coca-Cola Company hired artist Haddon Sundblom to paint Santa Claus into their holiday advertising as a way of increasing sales of the drink during winter.”
Last December, about 20 people a day ambled through during the open hours, Tilotta said, also estimating that roughly four small groups of people have made appointments each month. Overall, it can be tempting for some youngsters who want to touch the tantalizing Santas. Some folks who stop by take a short look, while others linger over all the details and soak up the Santa spirit.
“There are times you think you’ve seen it all,” said Tilotta, who is partial to the needlework depictions of Santa, but then occasionally she gets surprised to find something she hadn’t noticed before. The museum appeals to folks because “many people find him comforting,” she said, and Santa Claus “represents the spirit of the season.”
Then after a visit with these old St. Nicks, delighted visitors can go on their merry way.
Know Before You Go
Parking is right on the street.
Open Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., December 1-18. Admission is free these days, but donations are welcomed.
On other days, the museum is open by appointment only. Admission is $5 per person, children 5 years and under are free.