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A Santa Face-Off

December 22, 2013
Santa Claus is an integral part of our Holiday festivities but he has certainly changed over the years. The historical Saint Nicholas was a Greek bishop living in what is today Turkey. He loved children and often put coins in shoes left on stoops, and an interesting miracle is associated with him. Back in 300 AD in Nicholas’ day, a famine struck the region. A butcher lured three children into his store, slaughtered them and placed their remains in a barrel so he could cure the meat and sell it as ham. Nicholas happened by, somehow became aware of the murders, and prayed until the barrel’s lid popped off and the boys emerged, intact and alive. This is the authentic Saint Nicholas. In this early illustration, “Santa” still has a bishop’s miter and staff.


Arthur Rackham was a British artist from the Victorian era who illustrated the eternally popular Twas the Night Before Christmas, creating the popular image of Saint Nick as a tiny elf. Because of the Saint’s diminutive size, he could easily slide down chimneys and be pulled by a reindeer sleigh. If you’ve ever seen a live reindeer you’ve noticed that they are surprisingly tiny.



Old Kris is my favorite characterization of Santa Claus. It was painted by N.C.Wyeth, father of über famous artist Andrew Wyeth. Here we have the beginning of Santa as we know him. The lighting and brushwork are magnificent, and I take particular delight in the mouse perched on the clock, casting his little shadow on the wall.




In the 1930s an illustrator named Haddon Sundblom received a commission from the Coca-Cola Company to create an American Santa for a new advertising campaign. Sundblom created the Santa we recognize today; he remains jolly and generous, but he’s no longer a tiny elf. Macho as a bearded Ernest Hemingway and big as a linebacker, this Santa couldn’t possibly slide down a chimney or be pulled by creatures as tiny as reindeer, which don’t live in North America anyway. More horsepower was needed; in this instance—caribou power.




We all change over the years and Santa is no exception. Celebrate Christmas with the Yule-time persona you like best. And if you’re enjoying a ham this Christmas try not to think about that Saint Nicholas miracle. I’m sure your ham came about in the normal way.




Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.







So that Fox "Babe" was right about Santa at least...he was if that is of any real importance.. Thanks for the history lesson. I have to wonder what Santa would look like if Coke had commissioned you.
By: Cranly on December 22, 2013
Great pictures and history of the jolly man!
By: David Walston on December 22, 2013
Until I read down your post I thought the Wyeth was one of your paintings! It does look like your style- especially with the gold stars and crescent moon on the bag and the wee little mouse on the clock. Merry Christmas and yes we are having ham, but it's from a local grower that loves kids- playing and having fun- NOT in a barrel! Cheers! and thanks for all the delightful stories you have given us all this year!
By: Kathe W. on December 22, 2013
i kinda like the idea of a tiny, sneaky elf. you can keep the lore about a barrel of ham, though. ewwww!
By: TexWisGirl on December 22, 2013
love your sharing of the art of Santa as well as the telling of the original St. Nicholaas. I think I'd pick the tiny one if I was given my druthers. Merry Jingles, Oma Linda
By: Oma Linda on December 22, 2013
Have a lovely Christmas, and a brilliant 2014!
By: Jenny Woolf on December 22, 2013
Rackham's Santa looks more like a gremlin or evil elf than a good guy. And leave it to Coca-cola to come up with the jolly fat guy! Thanks for the Santa history. Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas! :-)
By: Lexa Cain on December 22, 2013
More stuff I didn't know--Merry Christmas!!
By: fishducky on December 22, 2013
Fun stuff. I notice that Santa, like the rest of us, has gained some weight over the years ...
By: tom sightings on December 22, 2013
We all see things from our own experiences, don't we. I enjoy seeing the different versions of Santa and have seen some Santa collections of friends that blow my mind. Merry Christmas however you spend your day and wherever you are. You and your Mrs travel so much you might be on the North Pole this Christmas. If so, put in a good word for me with the elves, they are the ones who get the stuff ready anyway.
By: CiCi on December 22, 2013
I think Santa with all his powers could transmogrify himself into whatever size he needed to be. So there!
By: Catalyst/Bruce on December 22, 2013
When my kids were young and still believed that Santa would come down the chimney, they did ask the question how his big belly would fit. I gave the answer that made do for all such probing questions: It's magic! Merry Christmas to you and your family!
By: Pixel Peeper on December 22, 2013
I grew up with the linebacker version but like the idea of the little guy. Thanks for pointing out the mouse shadow. i would have missed it and it is adorable.
By: Akansas Patti on December 22, 2013
The thing when people were complaining Santa can't be black is that as you point out his appearance has changed radically over the years, so there's no reason he couldn't be black or anything else if the artist so chooses.
By: PT Dilloway on December 22, 2013
My problem is i like them all! Or maybe it's not a problem.
By: mimi on December 22, 2013
It's good to be reminded of the historical background of things. Have a great Christmas holiday.
By: red on December 22, 2013
May you and yours have a wonderful Christmas CC
By: Hilary on December 22, 2013
We had one of those "coke" santas when I was growing up. My mom said he had a reindeer at one time, but he fell apart. The Santa had come with a Coke in his hand. She gave Santa to one of my sisters. I imagine he fetched a pretty penny. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 22, 2013
I prefer the elfish Santa. Maybe it's the shoes.
By: Val on December 22, 2013
Rackham's painting is awesome. Santa's no fun at all unless he's just a tiny bit creepy.
By: Katy on December 22, 2013
Interesting stuff. I think I prefer my Santas podgy and jolly, rather than small and bishop-like.
By: Bryan Jones on December 23, 2013
Thank you for sharing the artful world of Santa. I was raised with two slants on Christmas and New Years. On my Irish side Christmas day was the main event with church mass front and centre. On my French side, Christmas Eve and réveillon is a festive meal and Christmas day focused on family. New Years eve was again celebrated réveillon and gifts exchanged on New Years day with family and friends.
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 23, 2013
What a great lesson on Santa. And the artwork is really amazing. Who knows what he may look like in the 22nd century?!
By: Bouncin Barb on December 23, 2013
Thank you for sharing the wonderful art and stories Stephen. Wishing you and yours a wonder filled festive period!
By: John on December 24, 2013

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