Linda Hamer Kennett
Greensburg Daily News
It is the belief of many, that the original “Santa Claus” was St Nicholas of Myra, born in 300 A.D.
The only child of affluent parents, he was orphaned at the age of three and sent to a monastery. At the age of 17 he became a priest with a compassion for those in poverty. Through the remainder of his life he systematically gave away his fortune to those in need, especially the children.
According to legend, he was known for dropping bags of gold coins down chimneys, some of which would land in the stockings that had been hung there to dry. In his advanced years, Nicholas was elevated to the position of Bishop. The common garb for bishops in that time was a long flowing robe trimmed in fur and a red cape. Does this sound familiar? After his death, he was elevated to sainthood and incorporated into the Catholic celebration of Christmas.
When the Reformation made the figure of Saint Nicholas undesirable to many Protestant denominations, the Christmas gift-giver took on a number of new forms. In France he was called Pere Noel, in England Father Christmas, Russian children referred to him as Father Frost, and to the Dutch he was Sinterklass. Through all of his many transformations two things remained constant: his white beard and his generosity to children.
Santa Claus, as we know him today, first appeared in the 1823 Clement C. Moore poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, where he is described as “chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf.” This figure was popularized in 1863 with a series of illustrations by Thomas Nast that appeared in Harper’s Weekly, and permanently etched in our minds with the Haddon Sundlbom Coca-Cola Santa’s which appeared on the back covers of National Geographic and the Saturday evening Post from 1931 to 1964. It is the Coca-Cola Santa, with his red suit trimmed in white fur, and wearing a black belt and boots, that is considered the image of the “modern” Santa.
Today’s collectors watch for Santa figures from the late 1800’s and the early part of the 1900’s. These Santa’s are dressed in robes, rather than the “modern” red suit. Robes made of mohair or fur are the most desirable. Older examples will seldom be found in red, but are in the Victorian era colors of purple, brown, white, blue, green, and occasionally in yellow. Many Santa’s from this era were were handcrafted in Germany and are referred to as a “Belsnickle”, a German term meaning Father Christmas.
In addition to figures, Santa candy containers and tree ornaments are popular with collectors. The tree ornaments will often be made of blown or spun glass, and the candy containers will be made, at least in part, of paper mache’.
Early Santa postcards, crepe paper foldouts, paper mache forms and greeting cards are growing in popularity and in value. In the area of Christmas paper collectibles, age is a definite factor in determining value. However, excellent condition is imperative no matter the age.
A heads-up for all of you “Baby Boomers”: Be sure to take good care of any childhood Christmas decorations that you may have. Chalk Santa’s, bubble lights, clip on birds for the tree, and plastic Santa’s from the 50’s and 60’s are starting to catch the eye of collectors.
Linda Hamer Kennett is a professional estate liquidator specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the valuation of estates and may be reached at 317-356-8967 or firstname.lastname@example.org.