Thursday, December 06, 2007

Four Clauses

Four Clauses

The Santas of Many Lands

This year, the good folks at AIGA New York asked if I'd like to design one of the wrapping papers for their 2007 Holiday Party. Being quite the holiday enthusiast, I agreed, and put together a snazzy wrapping paper depicting four of the many cultural iterations of Santa Claus, as shown above. Here's a little background on each:

Santa Claus
Santa Claus

This is the traditional depiction of Santa Claus. Like many of America's deepest and most revered traditions, he is almost completely manufactured for advertising, Coca-Cola having commissioned Haddon Sundblom1 to depict the jolly fat-man guzzling soda throughout the 1930's. Over the years, Santa expanded beyond his market-focused roots and came to represent the greater spirit of Loving (Toys) and Giving (Toys) we associate him with today. Count Chocula, however, remains selfishly tied to his "Eat Cereal or I Vill Suck Your Blood" origins.


The predecessor to Santa Claus (see how similar the two names sound? Phonetics is fun!), Sinterklaas is more or less "Saint Nicholas", and as such, is traditionally depicted in Bishop's clothing2. He originates from The Netherlands.


Hailing from Germany, where there seems to be approximately one million different iterations of Father Christmas, Pelznickel is described as an old man in a long, fur-trimmed cloak and boots, and a large, floppy hat. He is bent from carrying an enormous sack brimming with fruits and nuts, which is always full, mainly because no child in the world wants fruit and nuts for Christmas.

I suspect of all the Santas I've depicted, this one could possibly be the most off-the-mark. Perhaps because his appearance hints that the sack might actually be full of hobbits instead.

Knecht Ruprecht
Knecht Ruprecht

Another germanic Father Christmas figure, Knecht Ruprecht is really more of a companion for Saint Nicholas, the two being a yuletide good cop/bad cop team. While Saint Nicholas rewarded children for good behavior, Knecht Ruprecht would beat the living christmas out of the bad ones.

This type of punishing character appears in a variety of cultural traditions. These "Anti-Clauses" vary greatly in appearance and level of sadism; ranging from a rather tame Santa in dark clothing and a dark beard, to a much more sinister half-goat/half-man... thing. I myself chose to follow the route of a Santa doppleganger, in dark, furry clothing, with a slight rustic appearance3. Though initially I explored a much different path:

The Krampusse

You call yourself a Historian?

No — in fact — I don't. While I love history, and have quite a lot of interest in other cultures, I am by no means a professional historian or anthropologist. As such, some of my factoids above might be off-center from the reality of things (except the Count Chocula one... that's all true); so feel free to correct me in the comments should I have my facts wrong, and I will try to modify this article to reflect the truth!

I Like Wrapping Things — I Want That Paper!

Well, I do too. However, it's really only being produced for the holiday party, and isn't for sale. It is available in Wallpaper form, by which I mean "Desktop Wallpaper" — I've translated the design to a couple desktop sizes, which are now available in the Downloads section. You don't have to get one... but chances are Knecht Ruprecht will beat you senseless with a switch if you don't.


1Though, to be completely accurate, credit should also go to early twentieth-century political cartoonist, Thomas Nast.

2St. Nicholas was Bishop of Myra, a town in what is now modern day Turkey.

3Knecht Ruprecht essentially being a farmhand, or servant. Chances are that fur isn't mink.

Comments on this Article

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Mountain Gnome

Great post Kevin, I love the detail you gave put into the drawings.
What I also find interesting is that in Europe, almost every country has its own version of a christmas saint. Most often he is accompanied by a knecht (servant) This ranges from black ravens (eastern Europe) to black Moors (Zwarte Pieter) in the Netherlands.
Nonetheless the good kids are always rewarded and the bad kids given a beating, That'll teach 'em!


Sinterklaas looks pissed. Those Netherlandian folk just ooze holiday fun, huh?

Mountain Gnome

Oh yes and further interesting info on the Sint Nicholas. Those Moors were "picked up" somewhere round Gibralta on his journey from Myra in Turkey to The Netherlands. He himself is Illiterate, relying on his Zwarte Pieter to read from his Big Book in order to know which of the children to reward or punish. He himself does not dole out punishment, that is the role of the Zwarte Piet with his whip made of sticks!

Stevie K

Great wallpaper, although all the Santa's do look quite miserable, perhaps not liking this time of year too much.

As you probably know we in England call him Father Christmas, although we tend to get a thorough beating everytime we do. Thus giving rise to the popularit y of the name Santa Claus.


This is great. I am originally German, but lived in the Netherlands, so it is great to see some of these 'characters' again.

One note though: Sinterklaas cannot be equated with Christmas; it is celebrated on the evening the 5th and has quite a different tradition, one of them being a ridiculous amount of poem readin;-)

About the German Knecht Rubrecht: I don't actually know whether he belonged to the 'Weinachtsmann" or the "Nikolaus", the latter being the euivalent of the Dutch 'Sinterklaas'. (The Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas on the fifth and kind of forget about Christmas, while it is the other way around in Germany.)

Nevertheless, "Pepernoten" for all...

Kev Mears

Coca-cola urban myth

Differs on the amount of credit coca-cola had on the creation of the Santa image. But who cares, your'e pics are great.

Kev Mears

Who's a lazy boy and didn't read the footnotes?

Er.. that'll be me.

I'll just get my coat.

Mike Fool

Mountain Gnome - The Moors? I always thought it was the Moops.

Mountain Gnome

@Mike Fool
Ha ha
yes, sorry that should be Moops! But seriously, what ever it says on the card, Jerry knows the real answer is Moors.

Mountain Gnome

mistake again, it was George not Jerry. but it was Moors!

Stevie K

If the information is from Wikipedia then chances are its all false and Santa Claus's current appearance derived from a horrible disease in the dark ages which caused you to bloat like a balloon and turn red.

Of course I expect Kevin has done his full research to find that this isn't the case.

Mike Fool

Of course he did his research, what do you think he is using all of his grant money for...


No lie! I was just thinking to myself that it's about time to decorate my desktop for the holidays so I thought to myself "I wonder if ol' KC is going to whip up some holiday themed wallpaper this year." And voila! here it is! It's a Christmas miracle.

Russer Butter

I especially like the Gandalf one with the sack full of hobbits for all the girls and boys.

I believe David Sedaris said it best in his essay about Christmas customs in Holland entitled "Six to Eight Black Men." Unfortunately I do not have a recording of it yet (it's currently on order), but having heard it, I recommend it to all who think along the lines that Kevin did with his Santa Interpretations.

maflempt klarnt

swissmiss points out that it's Samichlaus day in Switzerland. Your hobbit-napper ain't so far off after all. [ link ]

Mountain Gnome

@ Mike Fool
I don't know what he has been spending money on, but it looks like he's been having fun in the pub!!


thanks for the nifty new wallpaper. i feel all festive and stuff now.


I'm not a mathematician, so I'm not sure which one of the three will work best for me. My screen resolution is set to

1440 X 900

I would really love to deck my screen in a little Santa Clause history attire.

This is some mighty fine workmanship you ahve done, and it's sad that it's just going to be ripped to shreds and then thrown in the trash.

On that note, I pretty much design material sent to people in the mail just for them to throw it away as well...

Hannah Mayer

Knecht Ruprecht looks a lot like my "Ancient Civilizations" professor from college.

Randy Johnson

Hey man, I'm from the netherlands; me!
Sorry for bitching but I had a rough day and I don't believe in sinterklaas anymore SO I HAVE TO WAIT TILL CHRISTMASS TO GET PRESENTS!
Sinterklaas looks good except; he is kind of grumpy, why is santa kind of prozac happy and sinterklaas worn down and a character from Office Space?

Also: Sinterklaas wears alot of christian crosses
on his hat ("mijter") and on his scarf and robe.

Also I'm going to print it out and hang it all around my art academy is that okay? to late!


I was all over buying a roll or two of that wrapping paper. Damn. :(

Nikki Noodle

As always, I'm a huge fan of your art (as well as the cleverness). Just wanted to say these paintings are terrific. You really seem to have the knack for paint-- it compliments your mastered penmanship. :) These santas are so lovely and loose.


As has been mentioned in the Netherlands Sinterklass has a "helper" Zwarte Piete (Black Pete). The incredible thing for me when I lived there was walking around in a town square as Sinterklass rode into town on a horse surrounded by about 20 six foot five blondes all dressed in afro wigs and black face who are all supposed to be Zwarte Piete. I'm informed by my wife ( a native of that strange and wonderful land) that this practice is quite normal and no one is ever offended. Frankly what Ifound most offence was that while they all wored period costumes, they really let the side down by prancing about in sneakers.


Thanks for the info, everyone, and sorry I didn't get a chance to comment yesterday — I got buried in work :(

Mountain Gnome - Man! You're a mountain of information! I did read quite a bit about Zwarte Pieter in my research - but I thought better of painting him... he does have the capacity to come off slightly racist, in America at least.

Stevie K. / Mike Fool - Well, to be honest, my research grant was FROM The Wikipedia Institute for False Knowledge.

Popo - Hooray! We mind-melded!

Mountain Gnome (again) - I've never looked so handsome.

Shane - Direct Mail, eh? I used to feel the same glumness when I'd designed ads for the newspaper. That stuff goes right in the trash. Though it was for Philadelphia and Reading newspapers, so sometimes those ad pages might have been used to staunch gunshot wounds, and clothe the homeless. That makes me feel a little better.

Randy - Yeah - I left off a lot of details on all the Santas, because I wasn't sure how small these would be shrunk down for the paper.

Nikki - Why thanks so much! I've always struggled with painting, so that's nice to hear :D

andrew h

Where-o-where are the Cornell Christmas cards with this on?

Come on man!


I know, I know... I just didn't have time to produce Christmas Cards this year (or handle shipping them out).

I really need to start making Mojo pull his weight around here.

Mike Fool

I'm a huge fan of false knowledge. I like to engage in false fact creation to better support my claims and opinions. At least that is what I call it, everyone else just calls it lying. Much to my dismay, I can't get a grant for that.

Varick Rosete Thanks Kevin!


QUICK! To the thesaurus Jackie ol' boy... find me 10 other words for AWESOME!


Varick - Sure thing :D

Kevin - I hope one of those words is "Humptacular" - that's one of my favorites!

blipple bloop blop

Wow, those are awesome Santas.
I have nothing witty to say as, truly, this wrapping paper has taken my breath away (and not because I'm being smothered by it)!


Kevin, you once did a nice article about the process of a sketch. My Christmas wish is that you would do a similar step-by-step on how you color your wonderful work.


I think I might at some point... I've never been very confident with color, and consequently I did a lot of research into how to use it better. Maybe I can put something together that explains a little about color theory, and applying it...


I would like to think that perhaps one day someone will see one of my direct mailers and fill like it might just be that perfect size to stop that old table from dancing every-time they set their elbows down to rest....

That should give that bad boy a much longer life, and a whole new skill.


Venture Bros.' Christmas special included an anti-Claus, to great effect. He was one of the satyr-like figures you talked about, called the Krampus, and he had two wailing German kids in his backpack. I quote from the Venture Bros. wiki:

"The Krampus crashes the christmas party, wrestles Brock, violates Rusty and proceeds to accidentally blow up the Venture Compound."

God that episode was hysterical.


The great animated show "The Venture Bros." had a Christmas special involving an anti-Claus. In the linked picture you can see the heads of Hansel and Gretel poking out of his backpack. Damn, was that funny.

The Venture Bros.' "Krampus."


Ahem... my Christmas present to myself is learning I'm and idiot.



Actually, Santa Claus, the american tradition is carried over by the europeans settling America. The tradition actually originated from the Dutch Sinterklaas. They merely had their dates wrong..

Also, Knecht Ruprecht is someone I have never heard of accompanying Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is generally accompanied by men named "Zwarte Piet(en -- plural)". These are Sinterklaas's helpers, they are all black and allegedly this is because of them sliding down trough the chimney, but it might be because Holland has never had the slavery/racism issues America has, that this hasn't caused any public outcry..


Another awesome post!


Oh wait.. there were some more little details to complain about ;)

Although St. Nicholas or Sinterklaas originally originated from Turkey, the story children are told nowadays is that he comes from Spain. Why the change is a mystery to all, but things are the way they are.

Zwarte Piet doesn't necessarily beat children anymore, although some songs still refer to that. Nowadays it is said that naughty children are put in his straw sack and taken back to 'Spain'. There they will become helpers of St. Nicholas and they will return the next year as a Zwarte Piet..

**sigh.. you can tell I love this holiday :)**

Daniel Black

Because, somehow, I don't think you've received quite enough accolades, these are beautiful.


Sinterklaas comes on the night between the 5th december and the 6th, and Santa Claus (de kerstman in dutch) comes on the 25th of December.

Sinterklaas is in no way Santa Claus. He's a whole other person. He brings candy and gingerbread (and toys) for the children and the bad ones go in a sack his black servant "zwarte piet" carries around. He also has a white horse with spots on it. He lives in Spain by the way, and arrives here by boat (steamboat of Saint Nicholas).


I sure love Sinterklaas. (I'm from belgium, where the tradition is about the same as in the Netherlands)
Do the people in America live up to the arrival of Santa as they do here?
Belgian television performs live broadcast of the arrival of Sinterklaas with his ship.

BTW. In Belgium the horse has a funny name, depending on the weather: "goed weer vandaag" or "slecht weer vandaag" ("Nice weather today" or "Bad weather today")


Hmmm... Since I'm the 44th person to chime in I doubt I could pull something funny out of my hat that hasn't been said yet... So, I think I'll just point out my favorite parts of these illustrations.

1. I think you did a great job making Santa's belt buckle shiny and reflective. That is tough to do with watercolor. Amazin'

2. Knecht Ruprecht's beard. It's impressive that you can make it seem so think and bushy. I dig it.

Happy Holidays everybody.


Here in America, children anxiously await the arrival of Santa Clause ... in his big sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. Our Santa story has him hanging out at the north pole with a lot of elves (not the awesome Lord of Rings sort, but short guys with pointy ears ... like midget Vulcans, really) and then, on Christmas Eve, he loads up his sliegh, hitches up the reindeer and they *fly* around the world, delivering the toys. Except for the bad kids - they get socks and underwear for Christmas. Santa used to give the bad ones coal, but that being a rapidly disappearing fossil fuel and all, he had to work on a more devastating (and eco-friendly) punishment. How he's supposed to get eight very large reindeer off the ground is really quite beyond me, though. Apparently, he's got magic tucked away in that beard ... or a contract with NASA, giving him access to anti-gravity technology .... Seriously, our Santa stories in the ol' US are kind of whacked out and you gotta hit the eggnog and the spiked punch pretty hard to really buy into it. My kids have always been realists and asked far too many questions about ways and means to be true believers. They've always humored me every year. ;-)

Oh, and Kevin - LOVE the Gandalf Santa!! I want a model of that one for our mantel!! :-D The sadistic Santa was a nice one, too ... "ok, kids, you behave this year, or I'll sic Santa on you!!!" hee-hee


fantastic and hilarious. i just found your site, and love it.


Well, I didn't know that there was a figure from Spain(zee mumma country) and I feel smarter after reading these posts. By the way, I WANT A HOBBIT MR. PETZNICKE SIR! I WANT ONE!!!! I SHALL PUT IT IN MY KITCHEN WHERE HE SHALL MAKE ME SOUP!

mossa monchaly

Oh,what huge and eerie Santa Claus Eyes?
Otherwise drawing is commendable for the detailation and smoothness.
Ooh I do get the flow in it...smooothnesss...


How come Pelznickel,Knecht Ruprecht and Sinterklaas look so bored....?
Good work!!!!
And yes,Mossa, I do too feel the flow.Smooothnessss...
Cheerios to all!


Great post, very nice to read about some of the other "Clauses" around the world.
I'm Dutch, so i just coudn't leave it to mark about Sinterklaas (or Sint Niklaas, so your translation to Saint Nicholas was correct) that it's not a Christmas saint.

Instead, Sinterklaas has it's on holiday on his birthday, being December 5th.

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