How big was Apple’s iPad Christmas?

Unit sales estimates for the quarter that ended Saturday range from 5 million to 7.54 million

The chatter on Investor Village's AAPL Sanity board Christmas Day was mostly about who found iPads under the tree.

"My kids bought me one. Completely unexpected," wrote one investor under the heading It is going to be an AMAZING 1st qtr iPad number. "Bought my parents one. They are amazed by it. My brother-in-law bought my sister one (totally unexpected). My son's GF got one (hoped for but not expected). Brace yourselves, folks. Gonna be big. Real big."

How big is a matter of considerable disagreement among analysts who track Apple (aapl). Having overshot Apple's fourth quarter sales by as much as 2.3 million units, many are approaching the first fiscal quarter of 2011 with caution.

We polled 27 analysts -- both professional and amateur -- for their Q1 iPad unit sales estimates and got an unusually large range, from a low of 5 million units from Hudson Square's Daniel Ernst to a high of 7.54 million from Goldman Sachs' Bill Shope.

We've used the average of all the estimates -- 6.35 million -- in the chart above.

Below: The analysts, their estimates and the date they made them.

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Analyst, affiliationiPads (millions)Date of est.
Bill Shope, Goldman Sachs7.5412/12/10
Alexis Cabot, Apple Finance Board7.4612/23/10
Nicolae Mihalache, Traderhood7.2812/30/10
Dennis Hildebrand, Apple's Gold7.2512/28/10
Richard Gardner, Citigroup7.0012/2/10
Doug Reid, Stifel Nicholaus6.8512/30/10
Turley Muller, Financial Alchemist6.8012/29/10
Robert Paul Leitao, Apple Finance Board6.7512/30/10
Mark Moskowitz, J.P. Morgan6.7112/16/10
Daniel Tello, Deagol's AAPL Model6.5412/23/10
Jeff Fosberg, Apple Finance Board6.5012/29/10
Hendi Susanto, Gabelli & Co.6.5012/17/10
Scott Craig, Merrill Lynch6.5012/9/10
Rajesh Ghai, Think Equity6.5011/29/10
Tavis McCourt, Morgan Keegan6.5012/30/10
T. Michael Walkley, Canaccord Genuity6.3012/30/10
Shaw Wu, Kaufman Bros.6.1012/16/10
Horace Dediu, Asymco6.0010/21/10
Brian Marshall, Gleacher & Co.6.0012/29/10
Chris Whitmore, Deutsche Bank6.0012/28/10
Matthew Hoffman, Cowen & Co.5.9012/16/10
Maynard Um, UBS5.5012/28/10
Kathryn Huberty, Morgan Stanley5.5012/29/10
William Power, Baird5.5011/4/10
Gene Munster, Piper Jaffray5.5011/29/10
Jeff Fidacaro, Susquehanna5.4011/29/10
Daniel Ernst, Hudson Square5.0012/29/10

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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