Does the original story remain or is art driving our perception?

The visual history of Father Christmas can be traced back to 17th century England in woodcut prints of St Nicholas

Christmas songs have become a fundamental part of the holiday experience. From carols, to Mariah Carey, everyone can name a few Christmas songs and many know their lyrics off-by-heart.

Can we say the same for Art? Is there even such a thing as Christmas Art and why do we not return to certain art and artists in the same way we do as music? 

It may not be as apparent as Christmas music, but we are in fact saturated with Christmas Art. Take a look at your advent calendar, if the doors open to pictures there’s a high chance they could be based on nativity scenes from Art History. As a subject in Christian art, the Nativity is probably only surpassed by the Crucifixion in popularity. It has been repeatedly interpreted by artists over the centuries with the first known example from the 4th Century AD. 

The longevity of the Nativity scene in Art History has had an inconspicuous influence on many people’s understanding of the Christmas story. One of the most famous nativity scenes is the Adoration of the Magi by Gentile da Fabriano from 1423. This lavish image in the late Medieval style known as International Gothic, tells the story of the three wise men’s journey through just one image. This compacted narrative is seen in paintings of the nativity throughout Art History. Arguably this has led many to thinking that the Magi visited the baby Jesus on Christmas day, when in fact it was on the 6th of January, known by Christians as Epiphany.  

By cherry irvine: arts columnist

Like art, advertisement has the power to shape our thoughts and perception. The most enduring Christmas advertisement of all is of course the Coca-Cola advert. The famous rosy-cheeked Father Christmas drinking from a cola bottle was created by the artist Haddon Sundblom in 1931. The visual history of Father Christmas can be traced back to 17th century England in woodcut prints of St Nicholas, but this image by Coca-Cola is the one that remains ingrained in our collective psyche. Contrary to popular opinion, Father Christmas had been portrayed in a red suit before this advert, however it was the first instance that he was depicted as Santa himself, not as someone dressed up as him. More than any other, this is the image that we still imagine today when we think of Father Christmas.

Christmas Art, like Christmas songs, can be found everywhere once we start to look. It potentially has had even more of an impact on our understanding of the holiday than its musical counterpart, testifying to the endurance of art in our culture. Like we return to Christmas songs once a year, perhaps we should also remind ourselves of the images that have helped to shape the Christmas tradition and celebrate their lasting influence.