Santa Who? Representations of Santa in the Archives

Santa Who? Christmas Pop-Up Event

In the spirit of Christmas, we decided to host our latest Explore your Archives pop-up event around the theme of the man in the red suit. Items displayed in the Christmas Pop-Up Event included material from animations such as The Christmas Dinner and The Mystery of the Missing Santa (both from the Henry’s Cat series) and Kevin’s Christmas Treat (from the Kevin Saves the World Series). The items demonstrate individual takes on the representation of Santa. The pop-up event explored questions such as “where does his reputation stem from?” and “how has his representation in popular culture developed over time?”

Christmas Pop-Up Display

Christmas Pop-Up Display

There are different suggestions for the origins of this holiday figure. Records date back to describe figures such as the Norse God Odin, Father Christmas and Saint Nicholas, with each displaying different characteristics now attributed to the modern day character – generosity, benevolence, kindness and good cheer.

As well as the name, the physical representations of Santa have developed over the years. In modern day the character is recognisable as a slightly plump older gentleman with a white beard, red suit and black boots. A common misconception is that this image derives from Coca-Cola. Instead, from the 1920s the company popularised a character design that was already imbedded in popular culture. The man in the red suit was a representation of Saint Nicholas by Thomas Nast, a respected painter who drew 33 Christmas drawings for Harper’s Weekly between 1863 and 1886.

Thomas Nast came to find inspiration from the poem by Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from Saint Nicholas, commonly known as The Night before Christmas, and depicted a jolly Santa in a red suit who gave gifts to children. In 1931 Coca-Cola commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop a new Santa image for their advertisements. He produced new images every year through to 1964.

Sketch of Santa, Kevin’s Christmas Treat

The animation material held at UCA develops upon this traditional image, with artists demonstrating their individual takes on Santa. Although commonly depicted with the red suit and black boots, we see varying representations of Santa:

Henry’s Cat, The Christmas Dinner: Henry’s cat and his friends end up getting stuck together. Santa arrives in his sleigh, hears their dilemma and rescues them by coming down the chimney. Here we have a kind Santa who is willing to help those in need. He maintains traditional representations by arriving on a sleigh and travelling down the chimney.

Henry’s Cat, The Mystery of the Missing Santa: It is up to Henry’s cat and his friends to rescue the kidnapped Santa. This time Santa is vulnerable and needs help. The kidnapper threatens to cut the bobble off of Santa’s hat, a key icon of modern day Santa’s image.

Kevin’s Christmas Treat: Initial sketches demonstrate Santa as an unattractive character – he is shown shouting into a megaphone with large pointy teeth. In the storyboards we are presented with a mechanical Santa, the episode demonstrating the modern day commercialised side of Christmas.

Sketch of Santa, Kevin's Christmas Treat

Sketch of Santa, Kevin’s Christmas Treat

As well as archival material, we also made use of material found on the library shelves. An old-fashioned Christmas in illustration and decoration, C. Hornung, (New York: Dover Publications; London: Constable, 1970) contains black and white images portraying Christmas scenes.  Christmas: Vintage Holiday Graphics, ed. Jim Heinmann (Koln;London: Taschen, c.2005) pays homage to St Nick via vintage graphic and print media. The pages are full of colourful Christmas images, with one showing a Hawaiian scene with Santa and his reindeer sipping on cocktails! These sources complemented our theme on the representation of Santa.

Volunteer Altaira with the Christmas Pop-Up Display

Volunteer Altaira with the Christmas Pop-Up Display

Look out for the Kevin saves the World series, soon to be included in the UCA Archives and Special Collections online catalogue. An entry for Henry’s Cat can be found here: Henry’s Cat

Kevin’s Christmas Treat Images copyright Bob Godfrey and Daniel Postgate. All images are for educational purposes only.

Hannah Ratford, Archive Cataloguer


Christmas Magic: Rare Book Gem, December 2013

If you haven’t managed to achieve the Christmas Spirit yet (maybe you are tired of battling through the Christmas crowds…) let us take you there with a bit of magic for Christmas – December’s Rare Book of the Month is Fairy Land – Pictures from the Elf-World by Richard Doyle.

First published in 1869, the folio has been described as one of the finest examples of Victorian book production.

Of particular interest to Illustration, and at Canterbury Library, explore Fairyland further here


Archive of the Month, December 2012 – Christmas Cards

Christmas cards designed by past students, 1991 – present

December’s Archive of the Month is a collection of Christmas cards created by our students.  These examples of modern design officially promoted The Kent Institute of Art & Design and later the University of Creative Arts, following a tradition for official Christmas cards started by Queen Victoria in the 1840s.  They gave students the opportunity to promote their talents and gain first-hand experience of fulfilling a commercial brief.

The collection includes two official Christmas cards for the Kent Institute of Art and Design.  The first is illustrated by Gary Jones, BA (Hons) Communication Media (July 1991) and was designed by David Hart BA (Hons).  This vibrant image, ‘Black Birds Whistle,’ uses a vast array of colours inspired by South America.


The second KIAD design, from 2004, boldly uses the barcode as its central theme.  The card cleverly combines a festive message while also making a sly comment on the season’s commerciality.  It was designed by Maxime Herr, BA (Hons) Graphic Design.

herr 4

Three designs within the collection were official UCA Christmas cards.  The first by Ruth Taylor, Foundation Studies in Art & Design at Rochester, layers images of fruit and the natural world in a rich colourful scheme.


The second UCA Christmas card by Heather Wheal, BTEC ND at Rochester, is a fun reworking of a familiar Kent seaside image.  The unexpected addition of a bright pink tree brilliantly contrasts with the black and white photograph.


The third UCA Christmas card was created by Lawrence Simpson, BA (Hons) Digital Screen Arts (2008), and designed by Melanie Ray, BA (Hons) Graphic Communication.  This glossy digital image alludes to the themes of light, the Star and the festive colour red.


These Christmas cards can be accessed at the library archives, Rochester Campus.  Other collections of Christmas cards include Queen Mary’s Collection at the British Museum, and the Word & Image department of the V&A which holds the first Christmas card by J. C. Horsley from 1843.

 This year, our Vice-Chancellor Dr Simon Ofield-Kerr lent his expertise to help judge a Christmas card competition for primary schools.  To read more, click here:

 These cards are accessible in Rochester

Reviewed by Lynsey Blandford, Library Advisor at Rochester