December 12, 2009 10:20:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
As the days of December advance, thoughts of Santa Claus fill the minds of the young and young-at-heart the world over. Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas -- whatever name he''s known by, the beloved figure symbolizes the thoughtful and generous nature of Christmas. He inspires a spirit of goodness that can soften even the grinchiest of us at this time of year.
For Fred Kinder, the joyful whimsy of Santa lives year-round -- literally lives in a guest bedroom of the Southside Columbus home of Kinder and Ralph Null. After about 40 years of collecting, Kinder has amassed an amazing collection of Santas from around the country and the world.
Visitors walking into the Santa Room are usually stopped in their tracks. Renditions of the jovial fellow fill floor-to-ceiling shelves and glass-front cabinets, their numbers so great they can''t all be displayed at one time. Garbed in everything from elegant robes to reindeer fur, with bodies of fine porcelain, gourds or bowling pins, they smile, wink and watch over all who enter.
Framed cross-stitch depictions, meticulously handmade, adorn the walls, as well as a few pillows. They were done by Kinder, who took up cross-stitch years ago to help him stop smoking.
"The Santas stay up all year; we always enjoy having friends see them, and especially their children," says the collector. "I love to watch children''s faces when they walk in and see them for the first time."
The figures represent all cultures, races and interpretations.
"We try to find some in every country we visit," explains Kinder, who travels extensively. The collection includes Santas from Russia, Poland, Norway, Iceland, England, France and Italy, to name some.
A Santa sampling
Some of the most unusual pieces include a figurine of Black Peter -- or Zwarte Piet. In 15th century Dutch folklore, the dark-haired, black-robed assistant to Saint Nicholas was relegated to doling out coal to children who misbehaved, while his good-natured counterpart handed out presents to good boys and girls.
Several are handmade by local artisans, including Null, Patti Johnson, Barbara Hodges and Peggy Hawkins. One tall Santa made years ago by Null sports a soft, gray beard made of fur combed from "Mo," the long-haired and now late feline who once ruled the household.
The most costly, Kinder notes, is an over-sized, fun-loving Santa taking his plane up for a spin. A minuscule Teddy bear purchased in London is the smallest piece in the collection.
A Santa bought in Finland is dressed in reindeer fur. The Scottish Santa, resplendent in his kilt, carries bagpipes. A blue-eyed, gentle-faced Kris Kringle painted on a 3-foot long weathered board benignly gazes at them all from the wall.
There is, of course, a down-side. Kinder admits cleaning is a chore. "About once a year, you have to take them down and really clean everything."
Aside from moving households a couple of times in the past several years, the jolly figures don''t leave their home. Well, not often.
"The only time they''ve really been out of the house was once to the library, when Chebie Bateman asked for them to be part of a Christmas in July at the library," said Kinder, referring to the former Columbus-Lowndes Public Library director. "And how could you say ''no'' to Chebie?" he smiled.
The Santa Room isn''t the only festive focal point. The Santa Tree in the living room of the home shimmers with blown-glass ornaments. Every visible inch is covered with Saint Nick as depicted by Christopher Radko, Waterford or Polonaise. Several dozen of the Radko ornaments were purchased on a trip to Poland, where they were made.
Kinder, an active volunteer with the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen, Angel Food Ministries, First United Methodist Church and the Columbus Arts Council, is no stranger to the spirit of giving Santa Claus represents. Maybe that has something to do with his fascination with this symbol of generosity.
"The idea of Santa just seems to bring so many people together, for whatever reason," he observes. "At least for a while, Santa Claus takes our minds off war and poverty -- and Tiger Woods," he smiles.
Then, with a merry and mischievous twinkle worthy of ole Saint Nick himself, Kinder adds, "See ... I really believe."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.