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The Many Faces of Santa
When I think of Santa, two images
immediately come to my mind
from childhood. The first is of the
stuffed, red-clad elf holding a
Coca-Cola bottle in an
outstretched hand. He stood on
the bookcase every year to welcome visitors and probably
still resides in a box of holiday trimmings in my Dad’s
attic (although the miniature bottle with faux umber
liquid disappeared years ago).
The other is of the red plastic cookie cutter of Santa’s
face with hat and beard, his features delicately etched into
the dough, which as children (okay, and still as adults) we
immediately obscured with generous helpings of red and
white icing, red sprinkles, and coconut flakes. I think
Santa approved—after all, he always ate the cookies we
I would wager the image that pops into most people’s
heads when they think of Santa Claus is the bearded,
rotund elf envisioned in "Account of a Visit from St.
Nicholas" and brought to life by the pen of illustrator
In our special holiday issue we look at how Santa’s
image and personality evolved over the centuries. His
myriad interpretations run throughout these pages,
starting with Winter Wonderland Santa, the work of
Directory artisan Ed Pribyl that graces our cover.
The historic St. Nicholas, the giver of gifts, was born
in what is now Turkey, while the fictitious Father
Christmas, who brought merriment to the holiday, traces
his lineage to pagan celebrations that focused on adultsonly
indulgence rather than childhood philanthropy. As
with so many other traditions, we Americans with our
varied cultural backgrounds blended the two and added
our own spin to create the modern icon.
To illustrate the changing face of Santa, we show both
historical illustrations and whimsical adaptations crafted
by today’s heritage artisans.
We also visit the homes of two collectors with vast
holiday collections. John Kardos’s home in New Jersey
and Joe Flask’s home in Kansas abound with Santas. His
likeness appears in print from early-19th-Century
German storybooks to early-20th-Century department
The collectors’ many trees are adorned with Santa
faces and figures spun from cotton, blown from glass, or
pasted from paper, while tiny composition and wooden
figures frolic beneath the boughs.
Stern papier-mâché Belsnickels, smiling dolls, and
figures in sleds or astride animals adorn mantels, shelves,
and tabletops. What more could you ask for holiday fun?
The entry deadline for the 2023 Directory of
Traditional American Crafts has passed. We are now processing entries and submitting
them to our jurors. We will contract entrants after the jurors have made ther decisions.