Santa Claus through the ages

YOUNGSTOWN — Since 1971, Logan resident George Johnson has been collecting unique Christmas memorabilia and decorations, including different images of Santa Claus over the years.

Johnson, a retired public school teacher of 42 years and college professor, spoke on ”The History of Santa Claus” in connection with the “Memories of Christmas Past” exhibition at the Arms Family Museum in Youngstown.

The talk was coordinated by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

Johnson, a member of Golden Glow of Christmas Past, a club for enthusiasts of Christmas memorabilia, said his collection started with antique furniture.

”This all began with my interest in antique furniture. It was easier for me to go to an auction and buy antique furniture then new furniture at a department store. We decided since we had antique furniture we would have antique decorations on our Christmas tree,” Johnson said.

As a child growing up in the 1950s, Johnson said he liked the bubble light decorations.

In the past 20 years, Johnson has done museum displays with his collections and also has held lectures that relate to the displays, such as nativities.

He said many Christmas traditions originated in Germany, such as Father Christmas coming to the village.

Characters who have helped create and had an influence on the modern image of Santa Claus include St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle and Father Christmas, all coming from Europe. One other character was Krampus, who had horns and a demon-like appearance, and was a servant of St. Nicholas whose job was to punish childrenwho have misbehaved.

Other characters included Jack Frost and Old Man Winter.

Johnson said spirits were also known and stayed busy during the day with the harvest and took care of the crops and fruits.

”People appeased the spirits by recognizing them on ornaments on trees and leaving food for them,” he said.

Johnson said the images of Father Christmas on a horse or goat are very similar to the Anglo-Saxon images.

There are also images of Santa in the sky delivering gifts which came from the images of the wild hunt in the night sky where children were expected to be asleep and not see the hunt or there would be dire consequences such as no gifts under the Christmas tree.

Johnson said during the Puritan times there were no images of Santa or Christmas, but they would later return.

Johnson and his wife, Jeanne, have loaned many of the nativities from their collection for the holiday display “Memories of Christmas Past.”


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