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Santa Claus

Christmas decoration
by yo go re

Modern folklore (i.e., urban legends) would have you believe that the familiar image of Santa Claus is a product of illustrator Haddon Sundblom and the Coca-Cola company. The familiar "Coke Santa" ads first appeared in 1931, but the image had been standardized long before that. Cartoonist Thomas Nast (originator of the elephant and donkey as political symbols) gave us the first modern depiction of Santa in 1863, and Coke wasn't even the first soda company to use Santa in its advertisements: White Rock Beverages started the practice in 1915, and Coke was just riding their coattails.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot; a bundle of toys was flung on his back, and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack: his eyes - how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry, his cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry; his droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, and the beard of his chin was as white as the snow; the stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath. He had a broad face, and a little round belly that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly: he was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself; a wink of his eye and a twist of his head Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

This Santa is a product of Kurt S. Adler, Inc., a company that seems to specialize in holiday merchandise. The stamp on his back suggests Santa was released in 1994, which seems reasonable: this was one of my grandmother's Christmas decorations before she died last year, and I definitely know she'd had it for quite a while before that.

Santa is a 5" scale figure, so the fur trim on his hat actually takes him up to the 5¼". He's not the most articulated toy in my collection, with nothing but swivels at the shoulders and waist, but the sculpt is actually pretty good for something that was meant to be pulled out of a drawer once a year, not judged like we do modern action figures. His red suit bunches accurately around his joints and belt, and his beard and fur even have distinct textures.

Paint is simple, but mostly good. It doesn't quite reach the edges in some spots - the white tends to bleed outward, especially at the wrists - but the face is clean and his eyes are crisp. Santa's showing his Germanic origins with blue eyes, though his skin is a bit ruddy. Must be from sliding through all those chimneys. There's an inexplicable red dot where his mouth would be; you can see the (unpainted) part that should be his lower lip, so it seems like he's sticking his tongue out at us.

Batman needs his batarang, Green Lantern needs his battery, and Santa needs his sack. This toy doesn't disappoint, giving us a green bag overflowing with gifts. It's a single piece, hollow ABS plastic, with paint for the two wrapped presents and the teddy bear. Everything is painted well, and there's a plastic golden rope that stretches up over Santa's shoulder. A peg on his back keeps the bag from falling out of place.

Press the button on the figure's belt buckle, and he'll cycle through three phrases:

  • Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!
  • Have you been good this year?
  • And what do you want for Christmas?

The voice is clear, and the speaker is located in the center of his back.

Considering that this Santa is nearly 15 years old, and isn't even technically a toy, it actually holds up fairly well to modern scrutiny. It's not articulated like a Marvel Legend, or sculpted by the Four Horsemen, but it's not like there are a lot of collector-friendly Santa Claus figures it has to compete against. For something my grandmother probably bought at the drug store, Santa is a fun seasonal piece.

-- 12/24/08

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