Holiday Wonderland: Lethbridge Volunteer’s Santastic Display
The red front door of Ken Orich’s north Lethbridge home offers a preview of what’s inside: Santas. Many, many Santas.
Ken is a long-time volunteer in Lethbridge. He has supported the Helen Schuler Nature Centre since 2008. Those efforts include the Bird Of The Week program, special events and kids programming.
He started his Kris Kringle collection while living in northern Alberta in 1988. His very own creation helped pass the time during a long, cold winter.
“We lived in High Level at the time and winter was coming along and it’s brutal up there,” says Ken. “So, I was looking in those Christmas craft magazines and I thought ‘I can make that!’”
The initial work of art, a candy cane holder, progressed to making two or three for the next few years. Then, the pace grew to a level Ken never expected.
“Somewhere along the line I became a collector. Suddenly, in the summertime, I would be in some thrift store and would see half-a-dozen Santas and I would pick them up.”
Ken’s collection has grown to more than 1,000 pieces including almost 60 of his own polymer clay and wood-carved creations. When it comes to adding purchased Santas to his ensemble, he’s never short on help.
“People, once they find out you collect Santas, their intentions are good but they’re able to offload some big stuff to you or they say, ‘Oh geez, Ken would love that Santa’ and they buy it.”
This year, it’s taken Ken around two weeks to display more than 600 of his Santas. The effort includes ensuring every face is visible.
And Santas aren’t the only hobby keeping Ken busy this holiday season. Since 2012, he has coordinated the Lethbridge Christmas Bird Count. The annual event sees local volunteers tracking numbers and species across 39 areas. The count provides long-term information on how winter birds are faring.
The international initiative began in the late-1800’s with a much different goal.
“At Christmas time, people would do what’s called a ‘side hunt’,” Ken explains. “So, they shot everything that moved. Fur, feathers, and whoever had the biggest pile were the winners.”
In the year 1900, the event changed to its current form of counting and tracking birds.
As for the future of his Santa collection, Ken is starting to plan for the eventual offload.
“My children are interested in the ones I’ve made but overall, I don’t think they’re interested in most of them,’ he says. “I might have to check Facebook to see if there’s a ‘Santa Trader’ or ‘Santa Collector’ or something. I’m 73, so I’ve thought about that quite a bit.”
More information on this year’s Lethbridge Christmas Bird Count can be found on the Helen Schuler Nature Centre website.