When people visit the Puritty family in east Wichita during the holiday season, they are intrigued to see a collection of black Santas and Nativities all over the house – arrayed on mantels, tables, Christmas trees and shelves, upstairs and downstairs.
What the mother of the house, Twila Puritty, sees in the decorations that she has collected over the years are the faces of her loved ones – her husband and children.
“My husband is black and our children are biracial,” said Twila Puritty, who is white. “All of the Nativities and Santas are white in our culture, and nothing was the color of my kids. I wanted something that looked like them.”
Puritty came to that realization after she came across a jolly ceramic Santa whose skin was black at a craft fair in Oklahoma City, in 2000.
“After having one, from then on they were just going to be black Santas,” Puritty said. “Then I started picking them up as I saw them.”
Puritty has found many of the pieces in department stores, mainly Dillards and JC Penney, and a few have come from Walmart.
“I just found this one at Hobby Lobby the other day,” Puritty said of a slim, colorful ceramic creche set up on a table in the living room. “The expression on their faces – they’re just gorgeous.”
In addition to traditional black Santas and Nativities, she has Santa in a boat, black angels, black Santa ornaments, a black Flight Into Egypt statue, a snow globe that she found at an estate sale, a cookie jar, trays, a tiny Nativity set from Africa made of natural fibers.
“It’s a real treasure,” Puritty said of the African set.
That creche and a large, dramatic one that dominates a wall of the dining room make a road trip to Derby every year for the annual display of Nativities at St. Mary’s Parish. It’s one way to share the collection.
Another way is having friends over. When people first come in, they’re surprised by the decorations, Puritty’s son Ross Jr., a senior at Kapaun Mount Carmel High School, said.
“Not many houses you walk into have this, especially when it’s collected by the white counterpart of the family,” Ross said. He and his brothers – Kapaun junior Deaundre and sophomore Maleak – helped their mother put up the collection this year, along with some of their friends. It takes about 40 man-hours, Twila Puritty said.
“We call it crazy Christmas” because it takes so much time, Puritty’s husband, Ross, said. Eighteen Christmas trees are up in the house this year as well. Ross Puritty is a former professional boxer, and now a defensive line coach at Kapaun, and a muscular black angel standing guard over two young children is his favorite piece, and one that stays out year-round.
“It’s a unique piece that started our whole African thing,” which includes art on the walls year-round, he said.
To make the Christmas decorating easier, Twila Puritty, who works as practice administrator for Wichita Urology Group, takes pictures of all the Christmas displays, and everything gets put up in the same place each year. “You don’t have to reinvent. That would be too tedious,” she said.
Artificial animal-print poinsettia flowers and garland offer the ideal counterpoint to the creches, ornaments and Santas as well as the African art that is on the walls. Puritty was thrilled to find the zebra and leopard poinsettias last year at Michaels.
“It’s so fun to have something different and unique,” she said.
The Purittys’ two oldest children, daughters who are off at college, will be home for Christmas, and two visitors – teen sisters from Germany who are daughters of a friend – will get to have a new cultural experience when they visit Purittys’ over the holidays.
“It’s always a point of conversation anytime anyone comes by,” Ross Puritty said of his wife’s collection, adding that it’s nice because people are then able to show appreciation for what Twila does.
For her part, Twila Puritty loves the beauty that the decorations bring to her home at the holidays.
“When I take these things down after Christmas,” she said, “the house looks so bare.”