Plum woman still adding to Santa collection

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 8:52 p.m.

To say that Santa is near and dear to Dorothy Weimer's heart is an understatement.

The Plum resident, whose birthday is 11 days before Christmas, each year goes to work right after Thanksgiving to transform her home into a showplace for her nearly 1,600 Santa Claus statues, plates, ornaments, music boxes, cookie jars and the like.

Weimer's husband, Ed Weimer, 70, heads out when the Christmas decorating begins.

“I go hunting,” he said with a smile.

Dorothy Weimer speaks with a sparkle in her eye as she describes the pieces in her displays.

“When I see something (a Santa piece), I buy it because I may not see it again,” said Weimer, 69, who during a recent tour of the various Santa displays in her home, was wearing a shirt adorned with three small Santas and a ring in the shape of a Santa hat.

Weimer's living room contains a china closet and curios filled with Santa music boxes, figurines, salt and pepper shakers and other items that she received as gifts as well as those she bought while traveling.

“There's a Christmas shop wherever we go on vacation,” Ed Weimer said.

The Weimers also have a Santa tree in their living room. The tree, which is filled with about 100 Santa ornaments, has Santa's face at the top. The sides of the tree are draped in Santa's robe.

“My sister gave it to me for my birthday about five years ago,” Dorothy Weimer said. “I have never seen another one like it.”

“The advantage is that you only have to decorate the front of the tree,” Ed Weimer said.

Dorothy Weimer also converted a second floor bedroom into a “Santa Claus Lane” room for her collection that includes jewelry, a Coca-Cola Santa Claus tree, Victorian Santa dolls, and needlepoint Santa displays on the walls.

“We have a two-bedroom house, not three (bedrooms),” Ed Weimer joked.

The room even contains Santa-printed drapes Dorothy Weimer made for the display.

Weimer said she started collecting Santas in 1975. Some of the Santa pieces date back nearly 100 years, she said.

Shopping during the Christmas season takes on special meaning for Weimer who takes her Santa purse along on the trips.

“If I find a Santa, I make room for it,” she said.

Another resident of the eastern suburbs is as passionate about nativity sets as Weimer is about Santa.

At a quick glance through the window, Linda Palmieri's living room on Deerfield Drive appears to host a Christmas tree like many other homes this time of year.

But anything more than a cursory look reveals that the “tree” actually is a series of shelves in the shape of Christmas pine, which house some of Palmieri's more than 200 nativity sets.

“I don't have a Christmas tree, I have a manger tree,” Palmieri said.

From traditional figurine sets to music boxes, homemade needlepoint dolls, blown-glass sculptures, pillows, blankets, vases and more, Palmieri has amassed a collection of 201 Nativity crèches, which depict the birth of Jesus in a humble manger surrounded by farm animals, the three wise men, his parents and a host of angels.

Palmieri bought her first manger set in 1968, after marrying her husband John the previous year.

“My birthday's in October, and every year my kids would ask what I wanted, and I'd tell them, ‘Oh, get me a manger set,'” she said.

That was the beginning. Soon afterward, Palmieri began receiving sets for her birthday, for Christmas, and from friends who bought them for her in their travels.

She has inherited a number of sets from friends or relatives who have passed away, including the oldest set from the 1930s, which belonged to Palmieri's mother.

She said each is special in its own way.

“I could tell you a story about each one,” Palmieri said as she pointed out a set bought in Italy, which has a manger scene set inside a red cone, all made from blown glass.

Naturally, once the collection began edging over 50 and toward 100, Palmieri started running out of space to display them. That's when she turned to her spouse.

“My poor husband,” she said, laughing. “I come up with all kinds of projects for him.”

Palmieri tasked John with building some sort of shelving for the collection, and he was inspired by a trip to church.

“They had a poinsettia stand built to look like a tree,” John Palmieri said. “So I made a ‘tree' with plywood and two-by-eights, cut in a step formation.

“I wanted it to be simple, because I have to put them up every year,” he said, adding that he can put the whole “tree” together in about five minutes.

No such luck when it comes to the actual mangers, though: Linda Palmieri said it takes her about a week to set them all up, “and even longer to take them all down, find the right boxes and get everything wrapped up so it doesn't get broken.”

Palmieri said she continued building the collection because of the importance of the scene it depicts.

“Christmas is the nativity,” she said. “It's the birth of Christ.”

And her collection shows it in every possible way, from a Honduran crèche where all of the figures are made from natural plant material to a set with actual rock chips from the Church of Bethlehem to a manger made with ashes from the Mount St. Helens volcano. She even has a set of cookie cutters with all of the nativity characters.

And amazingly, in four decades of collecting, she never has received a duplicate.

“I just keep on adding more,” she said.

Karen Zapf and Patrick Varine are staff writers for Trib Total Media.

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