Black Santa collection is source of joy and pride for Park woman

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 20, 2021

 Margaret Hudson-Collins’ collection of Black Santas decorate her Grosse Pointe Park home during the holidays. Her favorite piece is Thomas Blackshear’s  “The Gift Giver.”

Margaret Hudson-Collins’ collection of Black Santas decorate her Grosse Pointe Park home during the holidays. Her favorite piece is Thomas Blackshear’s “The Gift Giver.”

Photos provided by Margaret Hudson-Collins

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GROSSE POINTE PARK — Every year, Grosse Pointe Park resident Dr. Margaret Hudson-Collins decorates her home with a collection of Black Santas that she’s been building for years.

She said they can be found in every room — there’s even a Black Santa soap pump in the bathroom.

But while she cherishes these holiday decorations today, her first encounter with an actual Black Santa didn’t go so well.

When she was a very young girl, she said her father was a professor at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, a historically Black university. Her parents took her and her sister to a Christmas event at the school that had a Black Santa — the first one they’d ever seen. But this particular Santa was very thin. His missing girth gave both girls pause.

“To my sister and I, this was just a charade,” Hudson-Collins said, chuckling at the memory. “We wouldn’t go up to him and get pictures with him.”

The story became the stuff of family legend, so much so that Hudson-Collins said her mother bought her a knitted Black Santa when she was in her 20s. 

“It was very special to me, so I just started collecting Black Santa Clauses,” Hudson-Collins said.

From major retailers like J.C. Penney and Hudson’s — which is now part of the Macy’s chain — to Black galleries and boutique stores, Hudson-Collins has been amassing her collection for decades. It ranges from fine art pieces to mass-produced commercial memorabilia.

From beautiful figurines and salt and pepper shakers to afghans, pillows and nutcrackers, Hudson-Collins estimates she’s gotten about 300 pieces over the years. Some, sadly, were lost due to severe basement flooding in the Pointes this summer, but she said she was able to rescue about 275 of her items. Many pieces, like the elaborate afghans and nutcrackers, are ones she hasn’t seen in stores in decades.

Her collection has grown over the years and even includes a few non-Santa items, such as Black angels and a Black nativity set.

Hudson-Collins’ favorite item is a Thomas Blackshear figurine called “The Gift Giver,” which features a beaming Santa carrying a candlelit lantern in one hand and a bag of toys slung over his shoulder.

She said she prefers many of the Santas she acquired in past decades to some of the ones being mass-produced now.

“Very often, they are white Santas painted brown,” Hudson-Collins said of the Black Santas she sees more commonly today. “They don’t often have the Black features and hair.”

Mr. and Mrs. Claus sets are also hard to find.

“Those are very rare, so whenever I see one, I grab it,” Hudson-Collins said.

The Black Santas are a reminder of the importance of representation. Even today, white Santas are everywhere, but Santas of other races are much harder to find. Hudson-Collins said she has tried to expand her collection to include Santas of Asian, Mexican and Arabic origin, but the only ones she’s found have been white Santas whose skin has been darkened and whose ethnic origin is denoted by the presence of a flag of the country from which they allegedly hail.

Her collection is a source of joy and pride, and it brings a smile to her holiday visitors as well as Hudson-Collins herself. And it’s a collection she continues to curate with care, one Santa at a time.

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