They peer from cabinets, dangle from trees, lurk in corners and stand guard by fireplaces.

Some look dour, others smile broadly and a few appear somber and wise.

Most are dressed in red, but some wear colors ranging from blue to brown and dark green, to white, pink and purple.

Santa Claus in every form, shape and size has virtually taken over two area homes.

Helen Zandt, 69, of Mormon Hollow in Walton, has gathered thousands of Santas over several decades since she received her first one from her mother in 1939 to adorn her tin dollhouse.

Thelma Cortright, 82, of Milford, tracks her Santa collection on her computer; at last count, she had 1,800 to 1,900 living with her.

Zandt said that when she was a child, she loved her dollhouse and decided to decorate it for Christmas with lights and a little tree in 1938.

The following year, she received Santa Claus with his sleigh and reindeer to go in front of the house and make the holiday scene complete.

"I eventually even got Rudolph when he came on the scene," Zandt said. "You had to wind a ribbon around every reindeer and then loop it back to the sleigh. I came across that Santa not too long ago."

Zandt's house is lined with Santas, but most of her collection is stored away because there just isn't enough room to accommodate them all.

"The last time I counted them was in 1986, and I had 2,300 then," Zandt said. "I can't even imagine how many more have been added in the last 22 years."

She pointed to a shelf filled with numerous versions of the jolly old elf and said she had acquired most of them this year, even though she has cut down on the number of Clauses she lugs home.

"We don't go to the auctions anymore," Zandt said. "I used to buy any box that had a Santa in it. But I still love rummage sales and lawn sales."

Zandt said a large portion of her collection dates from the years when New York City was buying up houses before building the Cannonsville Reservoir.

"People didn't take everything with them when they moved back then," Zandt said. "A lot of my Santas were in those houses. We went to the auctions before the houses were torn down."

Three large Christmas trees adorn Zandt's home, but she said there have been years when she had nine trees, which necessitated moving most of the furniture out.

Zandt cradled a glass Santa in her hand and said, "Some of the old Santas had very mean expressions. I like the happy ones, and I want a Santa that looks like a Santa."

Cortright began collecting in 1991, when she retired as a medical secretary at Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital, and has gathered about 1,000 Santas a year since then.

"I think I got my first one on a trip to Florida when we stopped in Williamsburg," Cortright said.

Cortright said her late friend Helen Wade was a Santa collector, so she began traveling to gift shops, yard sales and flea markets with Wade seeking out Santas and soon caught the collecting bug.

"I collected anything and everything," Cortright said. "Lenox, Fenton _ and then I began a theme of Santa's around the world."

A big Christmas tree with 200 to 300 blown-glass Santas and numerous small trees with specific Santa collections dot Cortright's home, while a life-size Santa and Mrs. Claus sit on a deacon's bench in the foyer.

She said she made a quilt with Santas that is on her bed, and she has saved every Christmas card that has a Santa.

"It's amazing what they make Santa out of," Cortright said. "I have a Santa made out of a piece of bark."

Cortright mentioned Coca-Cola, Hallmark, pewter, and silver Santas. She also collects Santa nutcrackers.

"It keeps me going and I enjoy it," Cortright said, "but you have to kind of tunnel through my house."

Zandt and Cortright each admitted that their holiday collections go far beyond Santas.

Zandt has 80 to 85 Christmas plates displayed on her walls and Cortright said she has also gathered many angels over the years.

"These are all the trappings of Christmas," Zandt said. "There is a reason for the season, and in reality, Santa isn't it. But I love them anyway."

___

Patricia Breakey can be reached at 746-2894 or at stardelhi@stny.rr.com.

Recommended for you