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SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Ask Mary Macomber how many nights before Christmas and she might answer, "About 170."

That's how many books the former South Sioux City educator estimates she owns of "The Night Before Christmas." If you add up the other items in Macomber's collection of Clement Moore's beloved holiday poem, the total goes up exponentially.

Some are rare and valuable and some are whimsical and inexpensive. More than 150 years after Moore penned his prose, Macomber is keeping it alive in her home every holiday season.

Q. What started this collection?

A. About 25 years ago, I bought the first book to read to my children. As an art educator, I thought the illustrations were OK. The next year, I went in search of another "Night Before Christmas," found one and fell in love with the illustrations. That was the start of looking for different books with different illustrations.

Q. What's the appeal for you?

A. Christmas just springs to life for me in this poem. I love it. I love to read it. I love the way he wrote it.

Q. What about the illustration aspect? Is that important when you buy the book?

A. I'm always evaluating the illustrations. I particularly like the older ones.

Q. Where do you find the books?

A. Antique stores. Book stores. I'll usually ask for children's books. Then, I'll be more specific and ask for the title. Sometimes, I'll even add "A Visit from St. Nicholas" or "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." It's amazing how many different ways the poem is referenced.

Q. What unusual presentations have you acquired?

A. I have the "Teachers Night Before Christmas," the "Dogs Night Before Christmas," the "Rednecks Night Before Christmas," the "Golfers Night Before Christmas." They're cute in that they change the words. In the Golfers Night, for example, the wording is how things are running fine so Santa decided to play a quick nine.

Q. So Santa can be presented in different ways?

A. He is. Out of every item in my collection, I only have one Santa who is black. So is the entire family in the book. I got that through a Scholastic Book Fair when I was teaching. I also have a book by William Wegman with his weimaraners in various costumes and poses.

Q. Your children are grown and you no longer teach. Why continue collecting this?

A. It's for the unique illustrations. Even last year, I found a pop-up book with all of the illustrations as delicate, black silhouettes. I have a book in which the illustrations flicker when you move the book around.

Q. Are these items on display all year or just seasonal?

A. I'll put them up right after Thanksgiving and take them down after Jan. 1. I know it must look like a lot, but it really all fits into a couple of Tupperware bins.

Q. What's your most valuable item?

A. I have a book illustrated by Grandma Moses. I think I paid $70 for it back in 1991.

Q. What are the other ways the poem is presented in your collection?

A. I have a bear who reads the poem while a mouse listens. I have a Santa who also reads it. I think those show how technology has been introduced to make the poem more interesting. I also have it on a CD, read by Peter, Paul and Mary. I have a set of dishes from JCPenney. A friend made me pillows with the words on them. I have an afghan.

Q. What about clothing?

A. I do have a nightgown and I did find a sweater set at Christopher Banks. It has the poem in blue with purple and rose coloring on an ivory background.

Q. No "Nightmare Before Christmas" in your collection?

A. No. That doesn't mean Christmas to me.

Q. What's missing in your collection?

A. I don't have a large piece of artwork that has the poem on it. I've never found that.

Q. Do you collect anything else?

A. We have a Westie (White Highland Terrier), so I have a lot of those types of items which are out year-round. My husband's aunt collected miniature nativity sets and when she died, we were able to choose some of those.

Q. Any thought to ever stopping the collecting?

A. The older I get, the more I think I should.


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