The Faces of Santa Claus

There has always been a Santa Claus.  His story goes back to the beginning of known history when, on Winter Solstice nights, Neolithic shamans climbed into ancient oaks or ascended rocky crags and returned with messages from the spirit world.  The world’s first gift-giver has gone by many names and incarnations since then ~ these are but a few.


CERNUNNOS (c. 1000 BC) –  The Celtic “Horned Sacred One” was the god of animals and nature, symbolizing fertility & plenty.  Reborn every Winter Solstice he is often depicted sitting cross-legged surrounded by animals and holding a ram-horned snake.  Occasionally he has a cornucopia in his lap and gold streams from his fingers.  His antlers illustrate the eternal cycle of life, while the two torcs – gold collars – he wears denote power and prosperity.  [The image on the card was inspired by a detail from the Celtic Gundestrop Cauldron]

ODIN (c. 1400 AD) –  The Scandinavian god of war and poetry flew the skies on his eight-legged horse dispensing gifts.  Blind in one eye, the two ravens perched on his shoulders personify “thought” and “memory”.  [This image was taken from a 13th century stone tablet, tho in this drawing i was attempting a brass rubbing effect]

ST. NICHOLAS (1400 – 1600 AD) –  The good works of this Bishop of Myra grew into legend.  A wealthy man he was said to have left anonymous gifts in the homes of the poor and saved three dowery-less girls from prostitution with secret deposits of gold.  In the early middle ages winter celebrations honoring the saint replaced pagan solstice feasts.  [This image takes its inspiration from medieval  illuminated manuscripts]

FATHER CHRISTMAS (1600 – 1800 AD) –  When Protestant reformers sought to do away with “heathen traditions” and ties to the Catholic church St. Nicholas was quietly secularized into Father Christmas.  Embraced by cultures throughout the world he has been depicted as a kindly Victorian gentleman, a pioneer peddler, a smith, a knight, a mysterious hermit, and a jolly old elf.

Forever young, forever enchanted, with a twinkle in his eye… Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and however he comes to you, may he bring you joy & laughter.

Images & information courtesy of “The Santa Map: A Cultural Geography of the World’s Most Beloved Man”.

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