"Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!"
The lights in the ballroom blinked off and on twice, signaling it was time for the opening of the group’s highly anticipated fortieth anniversary convention.
“Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the International Santa Claus Mug Collectors Society, it is my privilege to welcome you to the beautiful city of Orlando!”
The audience responded with hearty applause, and Gilda smiled and joined in. She was thrilled for the chance to leave chilly Chicago behind for the weekend and enjoy a trip to sunny central Florida.
Once she had everyone’s attention, Gilda explained Friday afternoon’s schedule. For the first time, organizers had decided not to distribute convention programs until after the welcome session. Otherwise, they knew, many attendees would skip the welcome and go straight to the afternoon sessions. This year’s offerings included The History of Santa Claus Mugs, How to Value a Santa Claus Mug Collection for Insurance Purposes, Crafting a Creative Santa Claus Mug Display, and the session she would lead, Santa Claus Mugs and Their Role in Popular Culture.
Also new this year was an afternoon Hot Chocolate Social at which the attendees would receive their Official Commemorative Santa Claus Mug. An artist in Scotland had won the competition to design this year’s mug, and Santa’s famous red hat featured a band of Scottish tartan.
No other Santa Claus mugs in the world, however, meant as much to Gilda as the three she'd kept from childhood. Her family—her father and mother, her three older brothers, and Gilda—had always posed for a Christmas Eve photo in their new Christmas pajamas, Santa mugs in hand. Most of those beloved mugs had been broken or tossed out over the years, so Gilda treasured the one she had convinced her mother to give her. In addition to that one, she had two child-sized Santa mugs she had used with her dolls.
Gilda’s mugs were some of the ones on display in the exhibit hall. Each year, convention goers were invited to showcase their favorite Santa mugs, and anyone who wanted to could include a brief story about their mugs in the event program.
Since Gilda had been serving as president of the collectors’ society for three years, all but the newest attendees were familiar with her three treasured mugs. Still, each year, someone came up to her to say how much they appreciated the fact that she had kept the mementos of childhood. Many of the attendees wished they had their own childhood Santa mugs. Often, it was that nostalgia that caused someone to begin collecting the mugs in the first place.
Like Marilee Hopkins of Australia, who still had her first childhood Santa mug. Marilee had more than three thousand Santa Claus mugs at last count, with no duplicates allowed. She loved to find the primitive-looking ones that some unknown woman had created in ceramics class. She devoted hours to visiting online auction sites to make sure she didn’t miss one.
The afternoon’s four sessions were held simultaneously, and each session would be repeated three more times before the end of the convention the next day. That way, attendees had the opportunity to participate in all four sessions if they wanted.
During the afternoon’s Hot Chocolate Social, Gilda walked over to the beverage station and looked for the basket of teas. Not everyone liked hot chocolate, so coffee and tea were always offered as well. The convention committee knew Gilda was partial to peppermint tea.
The afternoon of programs went off without a hitch. That evening, everyone gathered for a banquet where they enjoyed a concert of Christmas carols, ate a traditional Christmas meal, and honored the officers and volunteers who had served the organization over the past year.
At the end of the long day, Gilda headed back to her room and sipped a cup of tea from one of her newer Santa mugs. One year, a reporter interviewing her about the convention noticed she was sipping her tea from a paper cup, and his article took delight in noting that the president of a Santa Claus mug collectors group didn’t always use her Santa Claus mugs. Never again, she had vowed. Not when she had about three hundred Santa Claus mugs of her own.
The next morning, Gilda and the others headed back to the meeting rooms to repeat the programming from the day before. As always, it was a fun but frenzied time of leading the sessions, seeing old friends, making new ones, and answering hundreds of questions about Santa Claus mugs.
Finally, everyone gathered back in the ballroom for Saturday's closing session. One of the highlights of the convention each year came when a charitable gift was made in the name of one lucky attendee. All the names were printed on slips of paper and placed in a large papier mâché Santa Claus mug. Gilda reached in and stirred the entries. To be sure the newcomers understood how the drawing worked, she explained what she was doing. “Each year, in the spirit of giving, we like to conclude by choosing one attendee who receives a five-hundred-dollar donation to the charity of their choice. And this year’s winner is”—she paused for dramatic emphasis—“Richard Merriman of Nashville, Tennessee!”
Everyone clapped as Richard headed to the stage. “But first,” Gilda said, “he has to prove he knows the magic words.” She spoke into the microphone and asked, “Richard, what are they?”
Slowly, he replied, “Ho. Ho. Ho. Merry. Christmas!”
“That’s correct, Richard, and according to what you wrote on your registration form, the donation this year goes to the Salvation Army. Congratulations!”
Gilda pounded her gavel again. “And now, it is my pleasure to lead everyone in closing our meeting with those same magic words. And they are?”
“Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!”