Janet Bailey’s collection of Santas is diverse, unique and rich in culture, representing the 20+ nations from which they originated.
Bailey, technical services manager at the Abilene Public Library, might not have foreseen that when she received a Santa figurine as a Secret Santa gift during her freshman year at Pepperdine University in 1984. But just a year later, while studying abroad in Germany and traveling around Europe, she found herself picking up a few others. As friends and family later began to purchase them for her as well, they served as unique memento of people, trips and travels.
“They all make me smile and have good memories attached to them,” Bailey said.
Several of the figurines tell stories of their own by portraying cultural images of St. Nicholas (or St. Niklaus), including a Santa with Mediterranean or North African features and skin tones.
“I especially like this one because it would more closely resemble the real Saint Nicholas and not our anglicized version,” Bailey said.
A Santa purchased in Spain is formed out of terracotta with facial features and skin tones that resemble the local population. A 1993 visit to Russia netted some seasonal stacking dolls that show Father Winter, Snow Queen and their son.
“Where Russia was traditionally Eastern Orthodox, after the rise of Communism, St. Nicolaus morphed into a folk tale and his name was changed,” Bailey said.
Her German and Scandinavian Santas look more like the traditional Santa depictions in the United States, and yet, Bailey said, the differences over time show changes in attire. Not to mention the addition of a Mrs. Santa.
“That is quite a distance from the original saint from Asia Minor,” Bailey said.
Bailey’s collection of more than 40 Santa figures were purchased in Russia, Mexico, Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and India. About 10 other countries are represented as well, although bought in the United States and Canada.
“Seeing them again after a year feels like meeting old friends,” Bailey said. “Bringing them out and arranging them on a Santa-themed tree or in groups around the house make the holidays special and personal.”