Santa images through time

By Caryl Clem

In ancient folklore, Santa was an elf, gnome, or after Christianity, a Saint.  Children were taught that good behavior brought gifts or if naughty, his evil brother would punish them. Santa was not approachable for special requests.

The transition of Santa from the supernatural realm into human form was shaped by literature.  The 1822 poem by Clement Moore gave Santa a magical, friendly personality combining a mix of legends. Thomas Nast, an 1860’s cartoonist drew pictures of Santa talking to boys and girls that appeared in Harper’s weekly in 1863.  In the following years he included the sleigh, reindeer, and North Pole toy shop. In 1902, the author of Wizard of Oz, Frank Baum creates The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus implanting the wonder of Santa Claus to all readers.

The catalog cover for a 1906 Eaton Department Store shows a serious Claus thinking about Christmas.  In an effort to boost sales, Coca Cola hired Haddon Sundblom in 1931: who created the jolly grandfather Santa Claus figure we love today.  The 1932 advertising pictures featured a smiling, red suited Santa against a green background.   The laughing Santa was an instant hit, kids wanted to meet this charming version of humanity and magic.  The following years of advertising show an active, laughing Santa busy spreading goodwill.

Santa popularity can be found in the Santa Surfing competition in California to raise money for autism to a mountain rappelling Santa in Asheville, North Carolina.  The Salvation Army started to collect donations by Santa clad unemployed men in 1890 to raise money to feed needy families. The Santa photography business of kids sitting on Santa’s lap started in the 1940’s.  Santa was available for requests. Stories of kids writing Santa Claus letters and making Christmas wishes dominate movie themes today.  Santa Village ceramics, Santa figures, Santa dinnerware, so many ways to bring Santa into your home.

Costumes at Christmas were a Victorian custom that is experiencing a rebirth. You can be a Santa elf or any character from a Christmas legend at a get together or party. Santa is more than one figure, able to change forms in the spirit of good will and generosity. Enjoy living as a Santa this holiday season!  Let his magic inspire you!

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