I adopted the phrase “A Collection of Santas” to illustrate the extraordinary diversity and simultaneous commonality of “Santa,” a term I use to identify the Winter Solstice gift-givers that evolved in the northern hemisphere over thousands of years.  While few would recognize this character as the forefather of the American Santa Claus, Knecht Ruprecht is quite arguably Santa’s closest relative.   Shown here visiting German children in his typical garb of a long fur coat, dark, unkempt beard, fur hat, a bag of sweets, and a handful of wood switches, “Servant Ruprecht” took over for St. Nicholas in the Protestant regions of German following the Reformation in the sixteenth century and immigrated to the United States with German families in the early nineteenth century.   This illustration by German artist Oskar Plesch Holzstich was published in a German newspaper, Illustrierte Zeitung, on December 18, 1875.  

Welcome!  “A Collection of Santas” is a web site, www.acollectionofsantas, and a Facebook page devoted to my fascination with the winter solstice gift-giver that Americans call Santa Claus–particularly the diverse ways in which has been depicted over some five thousand years.  My interest began some thirty-five years ago as a collector of Santa Claus figurines.  When my collection got so large I needed to have another floor added to my house to store them, I decided to focus on telling the story of how Santa evolved from the pagan gods who led the midwinter celebrations at places like Stonehenge in northern Europe and my retirement from my career, I changed my focus from collecting to writing.  

My first book, Santa Claus Worldwide: A History of St. Nicholas and Other Holiday Gift-Bringers, was published in May 2020 by McFarland & Co., of Jefferson, N.C., and I am currently working on a book addressing the surprisingly controversial question of who wrote an untitled and anonymous poem published in The Troy (N.Y.) Sentinel on December 23, 1823, which has since become known worldwide by its first line, “Twas the night before Christmas.”   I hope to publish it in advance of the poem’s bicentennial in 2023.

In the meantime, this blog is designed to provide a forum for Santa enthusiasts, discussing how Santa developed, offering up historical tidbits, facilitating discussions about the history of Santa and celebration of Christmas throughout the world, and explaining that Santa exists as the personification of the Christmas season–“the feast of humankind” in the words of English author Michael Harrison in his 1959 study, The Story of Christmas.  As Harrison explains:

Christmas is the feast, not only of man’s redemption but of man himself. It is because it releases—if only for a few days in every year—tendencies that a savage self-interest causes mankind in the ordinary to repress. At Christmas-tide tyrants grow benevolent—even merciful; misers spend, not only freely, but willingly; the fierce flames of religious and political prejudice die for a short while to a cold cinder; selfish memories are stirred by the recollection—tardy but intense—of the neglected and the outcast.  For a few days, once a year, the atrophied souls of the grown-ups are filled again with that spirit which inspires the wisdom of fools and children.  

“Santa” is a term I will typically use when I want to refer to the world’s Winter Solstice gift-givers as a group whereas I will use “Santa Claus” to refer to the American version.  Santa has been known in earlier times or other nations as St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kriss Kringle, Sinterklaas, Babbo Natale, Kerstman, Grandfather Frost, Père Noël, Papai Noel, Papá Noel, Pai Natal, Baba Noel, Pelznickel, Belsnickle, Aschenklas, Ru-Klaus, Weihnachtsmann, Ded Moroz, Knecht Ruprecht, Svaty Mikalas, Veijo Pasuero, Dun Lao Che Ren, Old Man Christmas, Uncle Chimney, Mos Nicolae, Mos Cracium, Daidi na Nollag, Mikulás, Mikolaj, Olentzero, Samichlaus, Hoteiosho, and many others.  

These are all depicted as men but Winter Solstice gift-giver can also be a woman (Christkindl, Berchta, Babushka, La Befana, Kolyada, Snegurochka, Tante Arie, Vieja Belen or St. Lucia), a child (Christkindl, El Nino, Gesu Bambino or Le Petit Noel), an elf (the Scandinavian Julenisse and Jultomten), an animal (Julbock, the Yule goat, in Scandinavia or the Gentle Camel of Jesus in Syria) or a group of gift-givers: Las Tres Reyes Magos, also known as the Magi, the Three Wise Men or the Three Kings, who are the holiday gift-givers in Spain and much of Latin America, and the Jolasveinar, the Icelandic “Yule Lads,” thirteen children of a couple of child-eating Icelandic ogres with such wonderful names in English as Spoon-Licker, Pot-Scraper, Sausage-Swiper, Window-Peeper, Door-Slammer, Doorway-Sniffer, and Meat Hook.

Tom A. Jerman