It began with an innocent legacy from an elderly aunt, when she bequeathed Jean-Guy Laquerre an early 20th-century papier-mache Santa Claus figure two decades ago.
But with the passage of time a nascent fascination with all things Christmas has turned into an obsession for the retired teacher, who has now won himself a place in the record books.
“It awakened the child in me,” said Laquerre, with a twinkle in his eye looking around at his collection, describing his unusual yuletide fixation as “Santaphilia,” a term he coined himself.
“I started my collection in 1988. Over the past 22 years, I’ve accumulated 25,139 Santa baubles,” he said proudly, with a chuckle.
Every year as yuletide approaches he methodically unpacks his figurines and collections from their boxes to deck his modest home in eastern Ontario province in Canada.
“I can’t stop myself entirely, but I do restrain my urges. I surprise myself when I go into a store and I don’t buy any new ones,” confessed Laquerre, who bears more than just a passing resemblance to his Number One hero, with his white moustache, round cheeks and red Christmas hat.
But then he added with a regretful air, “it’s because I just don’t have any more room for more figurines.”
Santa Claus figures whirl from the ceiling, others poke out red-cheeked and jolly-faced from the back of sofas; there are Santa tableclothes, cushions and blankets; dancing Santas, and Santa albums and from an earlier era, 1940s posters advertising Santa smoking cigarettes.
Every room, every nook and cranny is plastered with the decorations, even the bathroom, which is resplendent with a Father Christmas toilet-seat cover, and boxes of Santa tissues.
“It’s just a small obsession,” Laquerre said coyly, before breaking into a deep belly laugh as he surveyed his treasures.
Still, he takes great pleasure in meticulously classifying them, including old Christmas albums and Christmas cards. Chocolate Santa Claus and other holiday treats — most too old to eat — are displayed separately on shelves in the living room.
Other items in the collection are staggering: more than 1,300 table napkins bearing pictures of Santa Claus, all carefully catalogued and stored in plastic sleeves to keep them in pristine condition.
As a child, Laquerre collected stamps, then labels from wine bottles before turning to Santa memorabilia.
He broke the world record for owning the most Santa keepsakes in 2004, but it was not until 2009 that his name was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
“A Texas woman held the record for 30 years. She had 1,039 items. It was time that I came along and broke the record,” he said.
As his reputation has grown so has his collection. Laquerre now boasts Christmas bric-a-brac from around the world, such as a hand-made reproduction of Santa’s workshop that took a French-Moroccan friend some 600 hours to build.
Laquerre says he hopes the entire collection will some day be displayed in a museum.
But some might argue that his home is already a shrine dedicated to Old Saint Nick and ablaze with the spirit of Christmas.