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Father Christmas Through the Ages

By Pipka

Father Christmas of Iceland

The legend of Father Christmas started in third century with St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. He was known to have given away a huge inheritance to help the poor, especially children. His deeds were prolific and by the Middle Ages, his fame had spread to much of Europe.

His popularity eventually spread to northern Europe, where stories of the monk mingled with folktales of elves and sky-chariots. In the Netherlands, St. Nicholas took on the Dutch-friendly spelling Sinterklaas. He was depicted as a tall, white-bearded man in red clerical robes who arrived every December 6 on a boat to leave gifts or coal-lumps at children’s homes.

Stories of Sinterklaas were brought to the New World by Dutch settlers in the Hudson River valley. In his satirical 1809 “History of New-York,” Washington Irving portrayed St. Nicholas as an overweight Dutchman who flew the skies in a wagon, dropping gifts down chimneys. In 1823 another New Yorker, Clement Clarke Moore, penned the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” which traded the wagon for a sleigh drawn by “eight tiny reindeer.” Beginning during the Civil War, cartoonist Thomas Nast published the first of a series of popular depictions of a rotund and jolly St. Nicholas. In 1879 Nast was the first to suggest that St. Nicholas lived not in Turkey, Spain, or Holland but at the North Pole.

In the 1920s the Coca Cola Company introduced us to Santa through their Christmas advertising ads in magazines like The Saturday Evening Post. In 1930, artist Fred Mizen, painted a department-store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. The ad featured the world’s largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Missouri.

Then, an artist named Pipka, began painting Old World Santas representing traditions practiced in countries throughout northern Europe. The images of Pipka’s elegant Santas became The Memories of Christmas, a line of sculpted figurines which touched the hearts and memories of people all over our country.


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