PIQUA — Christmas displays are up at the Piqua Public Library, which Director Jim Oda discussed with visitors who attended the “Portal to Piqua’s Past” event this week.
First stop, near the checkout counter, there is a fake fireplace made of books that Marketing Manager Robin Heintz constructed.
“We just thought a fireplace made out of books should be in a library,” Oda said.
The fireplace is sitting beneath an enlarged and colorized photo from a 1958 edition of the Piqua Daily Call that shows the Piqua Christmas Parade that year. The photo is a snowy scene of Santa riding on top of a firetruck, with the occasional child throwing a snowball at Santa.
Next to the large fireplace in the lobby stands the library’s Santa, which was donated by former Piqua Mayor Lucy Fess. It was because of Fess that the library started calling this Santa “Fess-tive,” although Oda noted that they no longer put a sign out saying that because of people coming up and telling them that they spelled “festive” wrong.
Oda also said that this Santa figure weighs around 400 pounds. “Santa is very heavy,” he said.
Oda went on to explain that the library makes sure to put Santa up only when the library is closed to the public, as the head of the figure is removable and can fall off when they are putting him together. Oda told a story of, one year, a mother and child walked into the library while they were putting up Santa and the child saw Oda holding Santa’s head.
“He let out a blood-curdling scream,” Oda said.
The child was very concerned about the library staff possibly decapitating Santa, but they made sure to show the boy that Santa was okay once the figure was put back together.
Some of the Christmas decorations in the lobby are new, including the “Nutcracker” statues and lighting in the mezzanine. There is also a yule log in the large fireplace in the lobby that belongs to one of the library’s employees.
Moving to the display cases, Mrs. Claus gets her display at the library.
“Tradition says that Mrs. Santa takes care of the naughty and nice book,” Oda said.
Next to the Mrs. Claus case is another display case featuring Christmas and Santa objects from other countries and traditions. The largest is a hand-carved Saint Nicholas from Ukraine. In that case are also Palekh boxes, or decorative papier-mache boxes, which are a tradition of Russia. The case also features a church bell, an image of Father Frost in Russia, and a brass traveling altar.
The other cases include modernized depictions of Santa, Rudolph and artist proofs of Rudolph, the Island of Misfit Toys, Christmas music, elves, and the Santa tracker, NORAD.
Oda explained how the tradition of NORAD tracking Santa started with a misprint in a 1955 ad from Sears, which accidentally printed the incorrect telephone number for people to track Santa.
“They printed the wrong phone number, and it was NORAD,” Oda said. Now, people watch NORAD track Santa on Christmas Eve online. “They’ve been doing it high-tech ever since.”
When someone commented on the amount of time and effort it took to put up the Christmas decorations and displays, Oda said, “Our staff worked very, very hard.”
Prior to showing visitors around the library’s decorations, Oda gave a talk about the various traditions surrounding Santa. In the U.S., tradition has Santa wearing red, but in the U.K., Santa can be seen wearing green. In Scandinavia, Santa wears blue. Santa also wears white or gold in traditions that go along with him being more of a St. Nicholas figure.
“St. Nick will very often wear gold,” Oda said.
Santa’s hat is also a hood in some traditions or a miter, a tall headdress worn by bishops.
In some traditions, Santa also has a staff. Some stories say that Santa uses that staff to hit bad children, Oda said.
“Some of the Santas are kind of rough,” Oda said.
As for Santa’s beginnings, he is mostly connected to St. Nicholas. “Most cultures will trace Santa to St. Nicholas,” Oda said.
St. Nicholas was a fourth-century Christian bishop in Turkey. Oda said that, according to tradition, there was a story of three pious Christian women who St. Nicholas helped.
“They were poor, and they didn’t have enough money for a dowry,” Oda said. “So dad was going to sell them into prostitution.”
According to the story, St. Nicholas threw three gold coins through a window into their home, each one landing in a stocking that was drying on the hearth.
“So the three girls got their dowries and didn’t have to go into prostitution,” Oda said. “This is all tradition, rumor.”
Oda said that other stories have St. Nicholas throwing the gold coins down the chimney. He noted that could have been possible, given that they were poor and probably lived in a small hovel.
Oda said that, with the concept of giving gifts, most historians will connect that to the Christian concept of the three Magi bringing gifts to the newborn Jesus.
The United States’ current depiction of Santa came from the Clement Moore book “The Night Before Christmas,” which drew upon English, German, and French influences of Santa.
Oda explained that, in 1881, Harper’s Weekly political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew the first iconic picture for Santa based on Moore’s Santa. Modern-day’s Santa is now the Coca-Cola version of Santa.
“He drew Santa as we know him today,” Oda said about Nast.
Overall, at the end of his talk, Oda said, “Santa as a symbol just changes all over the place.”
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 451-3336