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Enjoy St. Nicholas Day and Santa Collectibles

Santa is tops at Christmas. The jolly elf remains universally known as the symbol of giving, goodness and cheer.

This Christmas, I have a new-old Santa to place on display, one that carries with it a background of friendship and antiquing.

This particular Santa figure is stoneware, gray and blue. It was a gift from the estate of antique enthusiast, local museum owner and my friend Betty June Wymer.

Not your typical Santa look, it’s a small statue of the German Santa, Belsnickel, who was a crotchety old man that could be the bearer of good or bad news depending on the behavior of the children.

In his hands he has a bag of treats for good children and a stick for the bad ones (he also carried switches). Collectors snap antique versions of Belsnickel up in a variety of colors, brown, blue, yellow and red. This one may not be as old though and appears mid-19th century.

I think it’s from the Pennsylvania Dutch region since they include this cranky companion of Santa Claus in their annual celebrations.

The Victorians are credited with making Christmas what it is today in the United States. They made it a big gift giving celebration and expanded it commercially.

Many of our beloved traditions, like the Christmas tree, date to this era.

Collectors seek ornaments, feather trees, paper decorations, cards, early lights, holiday trim, aluminum trees and of course Santas.

Santa Claus and his image has changed more than you might imagine over time and from culture to culture.

The jolly one can be traced back all the way to the fourth century and the bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, now known as Saint Nicholas.

This generous and religious man became legendary for his kindness and gift giving.

Possessing miraculous powers, his legend grew during the Middle Ages as Christian pilgrims traveled to his shrine in Italy. These religious pilgrims took the legend of Saint Nicholas back to their homes across Europe and Asia and the story of Saint Nicholas grew.

Saint Nicholas’ Feast Day became a day of gift giving and charity and is celebrated today, Dec. 6.

Dutch colonists brought their Sinterklaas to America in the 17th century and the image of the bishop gradually evolved into that of a jolly old elf like we think of today. But it didn’t happen overnight.

Clement C. Moore and Thomas Nast get credit for the final transformation of a stern bishop saint into the jolly elf figure of modern times.

Moore with his “Night Before Christmas” poem, written for his children in 1822 and Nast, with his illustration for Harper’s Weekly in 1886, created the popular image of the legendary gift-giver.

Celluloid and plastic Santas also are charming and I have a few of these. I keep a lit up plastic version on my newel post, so it’s the first thing visitors see when entering my hall and nearby is a collection of Santa mugs on display.

Enjoy St. Nicholas Day 2020 and wouldn’t it be nice if Belsnickel chased away this pandemic with his nasty switches!

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at zambitomaureen@hotmail.com.

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