Searcy’s Carmichael Center home to many Santas

By Brittany Gilbert

The Christmas season is here! Bring on the hot chocolate, homemade goods, Christmas movies and music, and lots and lots of Santas. That’s right, a multitude of Santas. In the November 2018 issue of 501 LIFE, we featured an article about The Santa Lady, Wanda Emde. Emde has an impressive collection of more than 1,600 Santas — the largest collection in Arkansas. Our family started the Christmas season by visiting the massive collection that she gave the city of Searcy to display at the Carmichael Center.

Photos by Levi Gilbert

Emde began her collection with a homemade Santa craft made by her daughter in 1964. Through her own childhood experience of receiving thoughtful gifts when times were tough, Wanda developed a love for Santa Claus. Throughout the years, she has stories of accumulating Santas in hard seasons (finding them on clearance shelves once the holiday was over) to other years of purchasing beautiful ones as the season began, and also receiving many as gifts from those who knew her love for Santa. Perhaps, these memories are why she cannot choose a favorite.

As you enter the Carmichael Center building, you are immediately greeted by Emde’s Santas. Her impressive collection isn’t limited to one room; rather, it lines the hallways of the building. Hundreds of Santas are carefully placed on each shelf in the display cases. If you don’t stop to look closely, you will surely miss many of the unique pieces she has collected over the years. Even then, you will most likely still miss many. Also, at the entrance is a guest book to sign and copies of the story of how this collection was created and has grown over the years.

At the time that we went, the scavenger hunt was unavailable, however, it was planned to be available soon. You can call ahead if this is important to you. I did want my kids to really look at all of the Santas displayed and not just glance over them, so I came up with our very own challenge. In our homeschool community, our kids must prepare a presentation every week. While they usually have a lot more time to plan their presentation, I still knew they could handle a challenge like this. I asked them to look through the displays and choose their favorite.

Levi (from left), Canaan, Declan, Everly and Brittany Gilbert enjoying a selection of Wanda Emde’s Santa collection in Searcy. The parents were also able to sport some of the latest Christmas sweater fashion.

They could have multiple favorites, however, for the purpose of this challenge, they needed to be able to narrow down to one in order to present. After deciding, they had to give a speech to the rest of the family explaining why this particular Santa was their favorite, citing specific features or reasons. The kids picked very different Santas to present, and in the process, we each looked at these Santas a little more closely than we would have normally.

After visiting the Santa collection, the kids enjoyed playing on the playground outside the Carmichael Center, and then we visited a local restaurant only found in Searcy. We also wore Christmas shirts and sweaters to really get in the Christmas spirit. We may have received a few questionable glances (considering it was early November), but it was worth it to create a memory and enjoy Emde’s collection together.

Brittany Gilbert
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