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 left him!

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 Thomas Nast.

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 store banners.

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?

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

Click here to post a comment about this letter.
Subscribers Partners Advertisers About Us Contact Us Copyright © 2023 Firelands Media Group LLC