The Evolution of Christmas: Santa Claus in the 1920s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

To conclude the series of posts on changing images of Santa during the Homestead’s interpretive period from the 1840s to the 1920s, let’s take a look at representations of old St. Nick during that Roaring Twenties decade.

First, any variations showing Kris Kringle as a little person, or thin, or in costumes of other colors, such as green, blue and brown, were basically not to be found.  Instead, the modern image of Santa as rotund, jolly and wearing his red suit trimmed in white was everywhere.

santa-claus-la-parade-1920s
This snapshot from the Homestead’s collection shows Santa on his sleigh being puled by reindeer assisted by Eskimos on Hill and 9th streets in Los Angeles, December 1925.

There were, however, changes in terms of Santa’s activities and his use of technology.  For example, he was increasingly being a featured guest in parades, such as the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

There were also some local examples. Note the snapshot taken in December 1925 during a parade in downtown Los Angeles.  There is St. Nick at the far right standing on his “sleigh” being pulled by “reindeer” who are turning west on Ninth Street from Hill Street.  His helpers are described on an inscription on the reverse as “Eskimos”!  Not only were bystanders gathered on the sidewalk and edge of the streets, but check out the workers on the second floor of the building under construction on the corner.

santa-and-boy-1927-2
The location is unknown for this 1927 photo of Santa and a young man at a store.

While Santa had been appearing in department stores for some years, the elaborateness of the displays and setting were definitely on the uptick by the Twenties.  The example shown here is from 1927, but is not identified by location.

Still, it’s an impressive scene with a backdrop of a wintry village scene, the elaborate sleigh on which the young man is seated, the massive sack (conveniently labeled “TOYS”, as if that was uncertain!), and the directional sign indicating the long distance to “Santaland” (presumably in the vicinity of the North Pole?).

santa-at-gas-station-1928-la
In this museum collection photo, the unusual locale for his visit with Santa in 1928 was a Shell service station at the corner of Wilshire and Harvard boulevards in Los Angeles.

A highly unusual and very modern locale for visiting St. Nick, however, is shown in the photo above.  Mom and her two-year old son in her arms, with two young friends next to them stand with Santa in another fancy display with greens strewn about, what appear to be balloons, and a backdrop with a toy soldier and a kitten on it.

The location for this professional 1928 photo by Frank A. Fernekes of Hollywood is a Shell gas station at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Harvard Boulevard in the Wilshire Center area of Los Angeles!  The station is long gone, however.

santa-citrus-label-1928
The Limoneira Company of Ventura County issued its own “Santa” brand of lemons and this label from the Homestead’s holdings bears a copyright date of 1928.

Another local and unlikely depiction of Santa comes courtesy of the citrus industry, one of greater Los Angeles’ biggest economic products of the era.  Well, assuming we consider Santa Paula in Ventura County to be part of “greater Los Angeles,” that is.

In any case, the Limoneira Company, which was founded in 1893, and still has 11,000 acres of lemons and avocados in its holdings (though it does pretty well with real estate, too), created the “Santa Brand” of lemons.  For many collectors, crate labels like the one above are works of art and the Santa label certainly is an attractive and colorful one.

santa-on-radio-1920s
This 28 November 1922 press photograph from the museum collection asserted that this radio speech by Santa at the Los Angeles studio owned by the Herald-Examiner newspaper was the first such oration given by St. Nick via the new technology.

Past posts in this series have highlighted Santa’s ready embrace of technology to improve his efficiency in delivering all those presents throughout the world, whether it was the telephone for communication or traveling in dirigibles and airplanes for deliveries.

With the onset of commercial radio in 1920, it was natural that Kris Kringle would take to the airwaves, as demonstrated in the press photo above.  Taken on 28 November 1922, the image shows St. Nick in the studios of a station owned by the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the caption claimed that this was the first time Santa gave a speech over the radio.  We can assume that at least part of his oration was the standard warning about who was being naughty and who was being nice.

From all of us at the Homestead, we wish you the best of the holiday season!

 

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