Christopher Radko's Ornamentsby Christopher Radko, Christopher Radko
When his family's Christmas tree stand collapsed, shattering their collection of 2,000 vintage European glass ornaments, Christopher Radko suffered a double loss. Not only were the irreplaceable treasures gone, but with them vanished a tangible link to past holidays and warm memories of family and friends. Searching for replacements, he realized they were difficult to find, and began a business that almost single-handedly revived the all-but-forgotten European tradition of mouth-blown, hand-painted glass ornaments. Now hundreds of these "memories in the making," as Christopher calls them, are on display in Christopher Radko's Ornaments, the first book devoted to all fourteen years of his delightful designs.
Each chapter is dedicated to a different category of ornament, from traditional styles to new ones inspired by the world's far-flung cultures, from jolly representations of Santa in all his guises to charming depictions of people, food, and animals of holiday lore. Throughout the book, sidebars offer an array of Christopher's own tips on how to light and trim a tree and decorate the entire house with ornaments, as well as fascinating information on the ornaments themselves. Lavishly illustrated with more than 275 full-color photographs and packed with personal anecdotes, Christopher Radko's Ornaments captures the heart of Christmas and encourages us to celebrate its message of giving and caring, one ornament at a time.
- Crown Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 7.95(w) x 8.55(h) x 0.66(d)
Read an Excerpt
When pressed to name his favorite ornaments, Christopher concedes that the Santas occupy a special place in his heart. And nowhere has his limitless imagination found more fertile territory than in his depictions of Mr. Claus. Each year his collection of ornaments totals close to one thousand, and about a hundred of these represent the figure that almost single-handedly exemplifies the holiday season. Like many beloved and legendary figures, he goes by many names. Whether you call him Father Christmas, Père Noël, Kris Kringle, St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus--as he is usually known in the United States--Santa has come to personify the gift giver specifically and Christmas in its entirety.
To Christopher, Santa represents the spirit of generosity that is the best aspect of the holiday season. "Santa is all about love, about sharing and good cheer," he says, "and not just material things. He symbolizes the best part in each of us, the nurturing, benevolent person we want to be." Indeed, Christopher loves to dress up as Santa, complete with flowing white beard, fake potbelly, and wire-rim glasses, and bellow, "Ho, ho, ho!" when he signs ornaments for collectors.
Gift giving has always been an integral part of any celebration. Ancient northern European Celts exchanged gifts on New Year's Day. During the harvest festival of Saturnalia, Romans gave gifts of fruit, while the traditional gifts at Calends, their New Year, were branches of bay, olive, myrtle, holly, ivy, rosemary, or fir. Called strenae, these greens were considered symbols of life, health, and vigor. Later, strenae included anything sweet--fruit, cakes, nuts--or anything golden, which promiseswealth, making gilded nuts and fruits popular.
Norse myths held that winter gifts came from their god Wodon. Berchta, an early Germanic goddess of the hearth, was another legendary gift giver. Usually portrayed as a hag and accompanied by elves and sprites, she rode through the land on winter nights at year's end, giving blessings and curses as appropriate to the recipient. Good children received gifts, bad ones lumps of coals or switches. People were supposed to leave out a feast for Berchta and her companions. Christians later renamed her Befana, and she became associated with the three gift-bearing Magi. When Christianity spread to northern Europe, the Church fathers felt that the gifts should come from a Christian instead of a pagan, so the job fell to St. Nicholas.
The American press played a large role in popularizing Santa Claus. Tall, thin, and dressed as a bishop, a rather stern St. Nicholas was depicted by Washington Irving in 1809 in his History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. Clement Clark Moore's poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (now known as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas), first published in 1823, described Santa as "a right jolly old elf, . . . [with] a little round belly," a tiny sleigh, and eight reindeer. But it wasn't until 1863, when a Thomas Nast cartoon of Santa as a jolly, plump, bearded elf with a retinue of helpers was published in Harper's Weekly, that our present-day image of the jovial figure evolved. In 1931, paintings of Santa by Haddon Sundblom advertised Coca-Cola in Look and Life magazines and eliminated the elfishness, making Santa a grandfatherly giant over six feet tall. This Americanized version of Santa is now popular around the world.
To Christopher, the divergent ideas of a rather formal figure and a jolly one represent what he calls the European and the American sensibilities of Santa Claus. This divergence is apparent in his ornament designs for the two kinds of Santa. The European Santa is slim and wears a long robe trimmed in fur. He was the one most often depicted by the original glass-ornament makers: stern, dressed in old-style robes with his arms tucked in his sleeves or holding a pine tree. In contrast, the American Santa is usually plump, wears a short, fur-trimmed red jacket, and often is laden with gifts. "I see the jolly Santa," says Christopher, "as the idealized grandfather we all wish we had, someone who holds you on his knees and tells you stories, someone who is generous with hugs." Unlike the stern Euro-Santa, this roly-poly figure would never carry a switch or threaten children with punishment.
However, when it comes to fashion, the European figure is leaps and bounds ahead of his American cousin. European-style Santa ornaments come in a dazzling array of magnificent robes, ranging from winter white to tuxedo black, princely purple, even aquamarine, recalling priestly robes worn on holy days. Their names are equally regal: "The Bishop," "Westminster Santa," "Romanov Santa." To this day, Santa continues to change his name, and literally change his colors. For example, under Communism, Santa Claus was persona non grata in the Soviet Union. Instead there was "Grandfather Frost," who resembled Santa but often wore a white or light blue coat.
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