You’ve Come A Long Way, Santa

When I was a little girl, Santa was a fat guy in a screaming red and white suit, with a white beard and a list.

Santa flipped

  That’s how he always looked.  

Sometimes his face looked mean—a little on the evil side depending on the depiction– but most of the “Santa” images were of a jolly, happy, kind-looking Santa, much like this one on the left. 

Doesn’t he look like a nice guy, laying his finger aside of his nose, about to nod his head and ascend through the narrow chimneSanta evily?

Back then, Santa’s  face was pretty much the only thing that varied.   Some of them looked absolutely evil.  This guy on the right isn’t too bad, but doesn’t he look like he has some mischief afoot? 

As a child, even into my teens, I didn’t realize that the “fat guy in a bright red suit” imagery was fairly new, or that it had evolved over a long, long time, and that Santa did not always look exactly like this.

But I nesanta traditionalver did much like that suit.

I suppose, even as a little girl, the beginnings of the Martha Stewart Mini-Me that I would eventually become…well…they were already in place.  I swear I don’t know where I got these tendencies.

I loved Santa back then.  But even as a little girl, when I looked at Christmas decorations in the stores, I just wasn’t into that red suit.  

Yes, I was an odd child.  I won’t deny it.

As I grew older,  I’d see those Santa dolls –you know the ones that are two or three feet tall, with fabric outfits–meant to be put out  as decorations either inside or outside, but I never wanted one for my house.  They just didn’t appeal.  santa 19-old-world-father-christmas-santa-claus-figure-with-burgundy-robe-and-gifts linens and things

Then it happened.

A few years after I was married, I was walking by the window of an upscale department store when I saw a Santa that made me stop and stare. 

He was not in a bright red suit.  He was in a robe.  Not screaming red.  It was deep dark burgundy.  The fur trim was off white and looked old. 

Now I know he’d be called an “Old World Santa,” but those weren’t around back then–or at least I hadn’t seen one.   This one on the right is not him, but he has the same look.   This is an Old World Santa from Linens ‘n Things.

After that, I started noticing more and more versions of Santa that were not the clownish guy I grew up with, but were based more on Father Christmas—the old world version of Santa. 

Santa woodland 3Not long after that, I was in another store and I saw “Woodland Santa” with leaves and pine cones in a wreath around his head, and a long robe of what looked like fur-trimmed burlap.  He had on snowshoes and there was a deer standing at his side.  In one hand was a staff made of a tree branch, and in the other, a lantern.  He had a rough knapsack over his shoulder.  His cheeks were still rosy and his beard long and white. 

It was just my style.  I love primitive antiques, log cabins, barns and woods. I had found my Santa.

I was in school at the time, and we were flat broke, so I couldn’t afford him.  Unfortunately,  I’ve never seen one  like him since, but I’d had my “Santa Awakening.”   This one on the left is similar.  It’s another version of “Woodland Santa”

Back then, all of these were “designer” Santas and were WAY too spendy for my budget, but I could still stare at them and imagine how they’d look in my future house, standinSanta woodland costcog on my future hearth beside the future fireplace.

Flash forward a few years.  Really cool Santas have come down in price, and now they’re available everywhere,  as common as Bright-red-suit Santa. 

Here’s another version of “Woodland Santa” on the right.  This one is available at Costco.  Doesn’t he look rugged and ready for some serious outdoor trekking?  Even if his sleigh breaks down, ala the movie “Elf,”  this Santa could still get where he needed to go.

FAther Christmas close up Now, thanks to the internet and shops like Etsy, there are doll makers who specialize in a zillion different versions of Santa Claus, like this Father Christmas in a fur cloak on the left. You can see the rest of him if you click on the link. He’s amazing.

Looking around the web, I found one particular doll maker whose work I absolutely love, and she was kind enough to give me permission to share her Santas with you here on the blog. 

Her name is Bona Lowery, and her Santas are stunning, one-of-a kind pieces of art, but many of them  cost far less than you’d think for such beautiful work.

If you click on the links, you can see the detail in these Santas in the bigger pictures.

Santa Cabin Bona LoweryThis is her  Cabin Santa on the left.   Cabin Santa is holding a little log cabin, and I love his fur-trimmed robe. 

On her site,  Santa Creations by Bona, she has a snippet about the history of Santa Claus. 

Pre-modern representations of the gift-giver from church history and folklore, notably St Nicholas and Sinterklaas, merged with the British character Father Christmas to create the character known to Britons and Americans as Santa Claus.

Father Christmas dates back at least as far as the 17th century in Britain, and pictures of him survive from that era, portraying him as a jolly, well-nourished bearded man dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe.Santa fishing Bona Lowery

Okay so Santa was fat back then, and Santa is still fat.  Even  most old-world Santas and Father Christmas figures have a belly.  Every one of us feels the pressures of current fashion, but not Santa.   Santa is, thus far, immune.  

Thank goodness. 

I understand from my friends who write historical romance that centuries ago, having a little fat on you was a sign that you were well-off.  You could afford to eat all you wanted, regularly,  and you could eat yummy stuff that most people couldn’t get.   The common folk were lucky to eat at all, and worked off what they did eat.  So, not only was Santa doing okay for himself, he was also generous, especially toward kids.

Here are more Santas by Ms. Lowery.   That’s Fishing Santa on the right, complete with his tackle. 

Santa silver wreath bona lowery

  On the left is Silver Wreath Santa–less rustic, and more in keeping with the sparkle of the season.

Nowadays there are Santas with sheep, Santas with donkeys, and Santas with kittens.

  I’ve seen Santas in sleighs and Santas wearing snowshoes pulling their own sleds, Santas with huskies instead of reindeer pulling the sleigh, and one Santa I saw was riding a polar bear. 

None of them were wearing the bright red suit. I’ve even seen a “Green Man Santa”–the pagan version of Santa– with long gray beard, still carrying the traditional gifts, but wearing a wreath of leaves and sporting antlers on his head. 

Bandita Kate is like me–she’s a wine lover, and she’ll love this next Santa.  It’s a wine rack, anSanta Karen-Didion-Originals-Crakewood-Santa-Claus-5-Bottle-Tabletop-Wine-Rackd Santa is enjoying a glass of his favorite.

 The photo on the right  is of the Karen Didion Originals Crakewood Santa Claus 5-bottle Tabletop Wine Rack. 

I had not heard of Karen Didion, but she was all over the internet when I went looking for Santas, and I absolutely loved everything I saw of hers.  I think she’s brilliant.   I found her Santas at Wayfair.com. 

If you click on the link and  look at the photos, you see the Santa wine rack from all directions. Plus, the wire barrel holds wine corks.    Did I already say this Santa designer is brilliant? 

Santa Karen Didion originalsYes, she is.

 

Here’s another of her Santas on the left. Victorian Santa Claus.

Father Christmas dolls qvc

 Awesome Santas are not just from fancy designers.  They’re everywhere.  The Father Christmas Dolls on the right were from QVC.  

The one below, on the left, is from Lowe’s.  I *think* those are snowshoes strapped on his back, though I’m not certain.

Santa from Lowe'sBottom line? 

Santa is stylin’.

He’s no longer just a guy in a red suit.

I had a bit of an epiphany while I was writing this post and searching for awesome Santas.  If I fall in love with a Santa decoration, it’s probably because it looks nothing like the traditional guy in a red suit,  and everything like a Wizard. 

It seems the more Wizard-like the Santa is, the more I love it.  

I never thought of Santa as a Wizard before, but he does have the pointy, floppy hat.  And how else does he get up and down the chimney–and fly all over the world in one night?

Just sayin’.

What about you, Bandits and Buddies? 

What sort of Santa appeals to you?

Did you grow up with the “Bright red-and-white suit” Santa?

If you celebrate another holiday, what are your decorations like?  Do you like bright and sparkly?  Or do you prefer colors and designs that are more subdued for a holiday?

If you decorate for Christmas, do you choose Screaming-red-suit Santa?

Or do you like the old-world Santas better?

Do you have any Santa figurines or dolls like the ones in the photos?

What says “Santa” to you?  

It’s ALMOST HERE! Tomorrow is Day 1 of our annual 12 Bandita Days of Christmas!  Prizes every day, plus extra goodies for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.   Be sure to stop by the blog each day between now and Christmas and leave a comment to be in the drawings. 

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Comments

50 Comments

  • Jane says:

    I did grow up with the bright red and white suit Santa, the one that’s in the Coke ads. I wish I could get one of those big Santa blow ups people put on their lawns. Don’t have any Santa figurines, but I do have angels and nutcracker soldiers.

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Jane, you also have a Golden Rooster–at least for the day.

      Congrats!

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Oh, and aren’t those Coca-Cola ads the BEST?

      I know you’ve been here when Dianna Love was visiting in the lair. She has painted a bunch of those Santas for Coke. I love her stories.

      I think those are some of the most charming portrayals of Santa. Coke used really good taste with those ads.

      I was in Lowe’s two days ago, looking at those big Santa blow-ups and thinking “Okay that’s just plain old fun.” They’re all over the place down here, but they take a lot of space.
      Hey, maybe you could stick one out your window and tie him down to something inside!

      • Jane says:

        You know I’m a fan of Dianna’s and I’ve seen a lot of pics on her site from her artist days.

        • Cassondra Murray says:

          She has some cool photos up there from when she painted billboards. Glad you’ve been over there to check them out!

  • Amy Conley says:

    I live outside of SANTA CLAUS, IN(yes it really exsists) so I’ve been surrounded by red and white Santa for years. But, yep had to add that one. Many years ago I saw an old world Santa and fell in love. I won that first one I saw and since then have worked in a jewelry store where Santa is displyed daily, 365 days a year, in various forms. I am partial to the Santas of different countries personally. But show me an old-world Santa and you win my love and gratitude for life.

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Amy, I give you a *high five*.

      I was afraid I wouldn’t find even ONE lover of the Old World Santas among the Bandit Buddies.

      I DO know about Santa Claus, IN, because there’s a huge amusement park there, right? They’ve recently renamed it or something, I think…am I dreaming?

      I don’t live incredibly far from there–Southern Kentucky–and we hear advertisements for that park all the time.

      • Amy Conley says:

        Cassandra you are correct, HOLIDAY WORLD as it is known now used to be SANTA CLAUS LAND. My daughter and I were trying to remember when the name changed occured and all we could come up with was the fact she was young since she remembers it as SANTA CLAUS LAND also. All of the streets in town have Christmas names and about 95% of letters to Santa are sent to the post office there where a group of women answer as many of the letters as possible.
        I have become jaded from living here though. I absolutley refuse to go into any other town’s “Largest Christmas Store” , of which I am seeing more and more of throughout my travels. Also I know gifts from Santa Claus, In mean more to the people I buy ghem for, especially when I also mail from there with their own special stamp.
        As a little piece of triva Santa Claus Land was the FIRST theme park in theworld opening its gates Aug 3, 1946.

        • Cassondra Murray says:

          Amy that’s very cool. I’ve never been up there to that park, as we don’t really do theme park vacations, but I bet they do it up right in the winter. Lots of lights and all that.
          I seem to remember one time years ago when you could go to the post office at a certain point and get your letter postmarked “North Pole” for your kid. As far as I know they don’t do that any more. I know that when I carried mail, I was instructed to pick up ALL letters to Santa that were left in the mailboxes with the flags up. I’m not sure what they did with those letters.
          That’s about the coolest thing I’ve ever heard–those ladies answering the letters.

  • Helen says:

    Cassondra

    I grew up with Santa in the red suits and to me that is what Santa is 🙂 but I do love all of the pictures you have put up they are really beautiful of course it is so hot over here that Santa is often very red in the face when he is all dressed up

    Not long now and Christmas will be here

    Have Fun
    Helen

  • Barb says:

    Hi Cassondra

    I grew up with Father Christmas in the red suit… But I do like the other ones.. I have 6 of the Coke santas in glass domes

    • Susan Sey says:

      Hey, Barb–

      My Mother In Law has a set of playing cards with the Coke Santa on them. He is unusually cheerful & jolly, but I think it’s because the two of them (Coke Santa & my MIL) have some kind of under-the-table deal going on. NOBODY can win as much as my MIL does without help. And since Santa is magic, I have no choice but to look his direction…

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Barb, so he was called Father Christmas at your house?

      I think it must have been a regionalism that he was ONLY Santa Claus where I grew up. I’d never heard that until I got older.

  • Mozette says:

    What sort of Santa appeals to you?

    We have the red and white Santa with the flowing white beard and black boots with the large brass bucklet on them… and he has Mrs Claus walking around with him too!

    Did you grow up with the “Bright red-and-white suit” Santa?

    If you celebrate another holiday, what are your decorations like? Do you like bright and sparkly? Or do you prefer colors and designs that are more subdued for a holiday?

    If you decorate for Christmas, do you choose Screaming-red-suit Santa?

    I don’t put anything with a Santa Claus around my house… seeing I live alone, if I ever did put up something like that and saw it in the dark, I’m very likely to attack it with a blunt instrument while screaming like a banshee or Amazon… 😛

    No, stop laughing, I’m serious.

    Or do you like the old-world Santas better?

    I do remember being told that Santa used to dress in green … I wonder if that’s true.

    Do you have any Santa figurines or dolls like the ones in the photos?

    What says “Santa” to you? Being a word person, I see it as an anagram… Satan 😛

    • Susan Sey says:

      Mozette, this reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live skit where Dana Carvey plays the Church Lady & she (he?) always ends up at some point mentioning that Santa is an anagram for…SATAN! IT’s always good for a laugh. You should check it out if you’re too young to have seen it on TV (which I suspect you are.)

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Mozette said,

      I don’t put anything with a Santa Claus around my house… seeing I live alone, if I ever did put up something like that and saw it in the dark, I’m very likely to attack it with a blunt instrument while screaming like a banshee or Amazon… 😛

      No, stop laughing, I’m serious.

      Okay I did. I laughed out loud. I know you are serious and I would probably do the same thing. I don’t like any “person-size or shaped” things standing around in the dark because without my contacts, I’m totally blind.
      But I’m still snorking. That’s FUNNY.

  • Susan Sey says:

    Good morning, Cassondra!

    This is such an important post for me today because I HAVE NOT BEGUN DECORATING OR SHOPPING FOR CHRISTMAS AT ALL.

    Sorry to yell like that but I’m panicking. I’m deep in revisions mode, polishing up TALENT FOR TROUBLE, my follow up to TASTE FOR TROUBLE, & I’m at that point where it’s all I want to do. I’m kind of obsessed & Christmas is slipping through the cracks. I have less than two weeks now & if one of those santas in this post doesn’t come to life & help out, it’s going to be ugly up in here on Christmas morning….

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Susan, I’ll come do the decorating. YOU FINISH THE BOOK!!! I want to read the next story.

      I’m so serious. I’ve been waiting for this book.

  • Deb says:

    Hi, Cassondra. I don’t mind the little guy Santa in the red suit since I grew up with that. I like the ones, though, that have smiling eyes and a smiling mouth. I don have 3 Thomas Kinkade
    Santa figurine ornaments that are “olde” world. They are all different, but they are wearing capes with one side gaped open and a Thomas Kinkade painting on the inside flap. I also have a Santa that my mom painted for me on a round board. He is the old-fashioned “Twas The Night Before Christmas” Santa with a wreath of holly and ivy around his head, cream fur on his suit, green mittens, and a pipe with swirling smoke.

    • Deb says:

      Oops, I do have 3 Thomas Kinkade Santas….Need an edit button, ho ho ho.

      • Cassondra Murray says:

        LOL! We DO have an edit button of sorts when we’re signed in as administrators. I admit the only thing I miss about the old blog–when it was JUST a blog–is the preview button. I got a chance to edit!

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Deb, now see, I like that “Twas the night before Christmas” Santa too. I think it’s the cream fur and green mittens that do it for me. Your Thomas Kincade Santas sound gorgeous!

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Thanks for sharing so many delightful Santas, Cassondra! I’m with you. The old bright-red jolly Santa of my youth is too garish for me (although I loved him as a child).

    I like the old world look, too, the dark muted colors and the worn look of the Victorian Santas.

    I think “The Night Before Christmas,” the classic story of Santa’s arrival speaks very clearly to the gift-giving and receiving part of Christmas, as well as to the joy of children believing in Santa.

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Jo, I know folks who won’t do the whole Santa thing with their kids for various reasons. I’m not a parent so I have no idea, and everybody has to handle their kids as they wish, but it IS joyful, isn’t it? That belief in magic–I think it does us good at any age.

  • catslady says:

    I like them all. I’m wondering if the fat-red Santa was famous here because of the poem Twas the Night before Christmas? My grandmothers use to tell us of the old woman up in the hills that came down and filled the children’s shoes with treats of fruit, candy and nuts. Quite different than our childhoods although my parents weren’t big on too many toys and probably because of the way they were raised. I went to the other extreme and can’t help overdoing lol.

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Catslady, how interesting!

      So the “Santa Claus” myth wasn’t part of your grandmothers’ childhoods? I know my grandparents took great pains to make sure my mother believed. My grandfather took a big sled and somehow got it on the roof and made tracks in the snow so she could see that Santa had been there. This was back in the 1920s. Now I wonder if MotherGrant and DaddyMike grew up with the idea of Santa Claus, or if it was something different for them at the turn of the 20th Century.

  • EC Spurlock says:

    We have a HUGE Santa collection, most of them given to us over the years by different people, and a few we’ve picked out ourselves. Most of them are Old World, Victorian or Wilderness Santas. Our first was given to us by my MIL, he sits on the edge of the TV cabinet and is dressed in green velvet. Mom got him at a discount because the velvet on his knees had got rubbed off, but she said it just made him look like he’d bee climbing through a LOT of chimneys and seriously doing his job, and I agree! I also have a bunch of Pipka Santas from different countries, given to me by my sister over the years. I am especially fond of the Russian St Nicholas, who is, BTW, the patron saint of Russia, and is sometimes depicted as riding a bear or horse in his bishop’s robes.

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      EC, I did notice as I looked around at Santas, that Sinterklaas, which I believe is the German Santa (though I speak no German so that’s a guess) always had a hat that looks a lot like the Pope’s hat. (I’m not Catholic, so cannot properly identify the different hats.) I thought that was interesting.

      And now I wonder if the polar bear-riding Santa I saw is of Russian influence. It was gorgeous.

  • Ho-Ho-Ho Cassondra –

    I grew up with the Santa on all the Coke paraphernalia. I usually put all my many, many Santa figurines up on the mantle but due to traveling and the shortened time between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I just put up a few. One has a blue coat with large white stars – like a wizard, I suppose. Another has a green full coat and another a deep red, but no furry cuffs. They all have those signature white beards though.

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Donna, it sounds like you have an amazing Santa collection! Where did you get all of those?

  • Cassondra, what a fun post. I love all the Santa pictures. Like you, I think I prefer the old-fashioned, nature-worshipping ones. I think they’ve got so much personality.

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      I agree Anna. I think for little kids though, that bright red suit must be appealing–at least to MOST little kids. I was the oddball.

  • Dianna aka Hrdwrkdmom says:

    I grew up with the red and white Santa too but I prefer the more muted colors and the robes, I can’t find a picture of it right now but I had a figurine that had a dark green robe, it reminded me of the Christmas ghost in George C Scott’s Christmas Carol, the one with the torch and the wreath around his head.

    That was my favorite though I had quite a few in my collection. Though some of them wore red it was a deep dark red and the trim was something like ermine I suppose.

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Dianna, that deep dark red–I LOVE the cloaks when they’re made of that color. My tree skirts–when I’ve had red–have always been that deep burgundy, and all of my “red” decorations–bows and such–are that color.

      Do you still have your Santas? And do you put them out?

  • bn100 says:

    any kind of Santa looks nice

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      bn100, you are easygoing and easy to please. Not curmudgeonly like me about such details. That’s a GOOD thing.

      Or perhaps you’re just trying to avoid ending up on the “naughty” list since Christmas is so close and Santa is watching….

  • Gorgeous blog, as usual, Cassondra! Wow, what an array of Santas. I must say that the bright red and jolly Santa is so much a part of my childhood that I can’t help loving him still. However, as an adult, I am leaning towards the more authentic. Love the cabin Santa you have there. He seems like he’d have real magic. I could believe in a Santa who looked like that.

    As for decoration, we do extremely tacky in our house, which sort of offends my sensibilities but the boys love it and what is Christmas, after all, but a celebration for children?

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      That’s the thing right there. If you’ve got kids. it’s all about the fun and making the whole thing magic for them.

      We who have no kids–we can fuss about designer stuff like which Santas are more lovely and what colors to put on the tree.

      when I was a kid, it was every color under the sun, all piled together on the tree, and it was BEAUTIFUL.

  • Becke Turner says:

    Cassondra,
    I stayed with the traditional Santa because my grandfather played Santa. He was on the round side, had wire-rimmed glasses, blue eyes, and snow white hair. He didn’t wear a beard, but I think he had a fake one with his Santa suit.

    b

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Becke, that’s so cool that your grandfather played Santa!

      I bet you have some wonderful memories of him dressed up!

  • OH Cassondra, now I’m in the mood to drag out my Santas and get to decorating the house. Will have to invite some grandbabies over to help! And I might just have to go buy a new one at Costco this year!

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Suz, I would buy every one of those old world Santas if I could.

      But the thing is that even if I could BUY them all, I have no place to STORE them for the other 11 months of the year. And that’s the problem. *heavy sigh*

  • Caren Crane says:

    Cassondra, I LOVE Old World Santas! Years ago now, my mom bought a bunch of unpainted resin Santas from Garden Ridge (I think – or Waccamaw). Anyway, we had tons of fun painting these Santas, because we could make them wear any colors we wanted. One of my favorites is a tall (about 10 inches), skinny Santa I painted who is wearing a dark purple suit. He is styling! 😀

    Of course, all the ornament painting and crafty things I ever did (hello, cross-stiched samplers!) were before I started writing. Now I have no time for anything else!

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Caren, isn’t that the worst thing? Time is the enemy for me in this. I want to try everything, DO everything…and there just is no way.

      We haven’t had a tree for a few years running. I desperately want to put one up this year, but I’m so behind!

  • Kim says:

    I enjoyed seeing all the Santa displays. I only own one, but it’s nice when people put them all over the house.

  • Today, I went to the beachfront with my children.

    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4
    year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed.

    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back!
    LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had
    to tell someone!