Hand-carved and comforting: Welcome to the wooden Santa Claus House


Kevin Major’s House of Wooden Santas exhibit will be in theaters until January 8. (Sarah Antle/CBC)

It’s been 25 years since Kevin Major’s beloved book House of Wooden Santas hit the shelves. Now, tucked away in a little nook outside The Rooms archives are the 24 original hand-sculpted figurines that illustrate its story.

« It’s a really nice presentation, » said Major, a Newfoundland author of more than 20 books for children and adults.

Major’s story follows the struggles of Jesse, a nine-year-old whose life changes when he and his mother move to a small town. There, his family faces financial difficulties and the threat of eviction.

Jesse’s mother is a carpenter and in an attempt to raise Jesse’s hopes, she carves a new Santa every day for him until Christmas.

Whether Thinking Santa, Super Santa, Reading Santa or Santa in the Moon, each sculpture becomes its own character.

A universal message

Major thinks his book isn’t just about finding the Christmas spirit.

« Well, I think, you know, the book is about a belief in yourself. I guess in a way, you know, it’s a belief in how you feel about the importance of Christmas, the importance of family, the importance of friends. »

« It has a sort of universal message wrapped around the Christmas season. »

And this message carries longevity two and a half decades later. Major says he often hears from people who read the book as children, now as adults.

« I still meet people who said, oh, I read this years and years ago, but I’m still reading it even though my kids are all grown up and gone, » he said.

A book is open on a bench.
Each chapter of House of Wooden Santas features a new Santa Claus. Every photograph of Imelda George’s sculptures was taken by Ned Pratt. (Sarah Antle/CBC)

A story close to his heart is that of a father and daughter who read the book together.

« They had been reading the story since she was a young girl and now she was at an age where she had gone off to college, left Newfoundland… But on December 1st, surprisingly enough, [they would] would call each other and the father would read that day on the phone to share the story with her,” he recalls.

« And I thought, oh wow, how does this affect me? »

Now his own grandchildren read the story. And what does he think of it?

“Extremely good,” he laughs.

Bring 24 Santa Clauses to life

But how did these Santas come to life? The story was partly inspired by four unique sculptures that Major had purchased from Imelda George, a folk artist from Nova Scotia.

Unsure if the book would be published, he approached her and asked her to burn 20 more. And with complete creative freedom, she completed the collection in six weeks.

« I knew very well that she would carve something special for everyone and it would fit into the story and how they needed it. »

Glass showcases feature carved wooden Santa Claus sculptures.
The House of Wooden Santas exhibit at The Rooms features the original 24 hand-carved Santa Clauses. (Sarah Antle/CBC)

But writing and carving weren’t the only aspects that brought the wooden Santa Claus House to life. Ned Pratt, an aspiring photographer at the time, captured each Santa with care and precision.

Pratt said being part of this project was special.

« It’s a great story, » he said. « If I may say so, I think it’s a fun thing to look at. And I think it’s a timeless book. »

To get these photos, he transformed his small family home on Mayor Avenue into a midsummer Christmas oasis.

« There were Santas everywhere, » he said. « The decorations were branches, bows, bells and pom poms, everywhere. It was very weird, but it was kind of funny too. »

A wooden carved Santa Claus is posed as Superman in a shop window.
Super Santa is one of the sculptures exhibited in The Rooms. (Sarah Antle/CBC)

But for Pratt, the book contains a different sentiment about the holidays. He used his children’s desks and books to set the scene, and now their childhood is immortalized in the pages of Major’s Christmas tale.

« It reminds me of my children’s childhood when I look at it, and this little house that I loved very much. So yes, I have a different relationship with it than the others for sure, because I see a part of my own past. »

Pratt remembers meticulously going through the sculptures to get the perfect shot.

« You treat these little sculptures very carefully, because they had a certain presence, you know, and they were all staring at you. So that was kind of weird too. »

In the Wooden Santa Claus House, we all have a favorite

Flipping through the pages, Pratt admits that Surprise Santa, donning a bathing suit and an inflatable float, is her favorite.

As for Major, he said he didn’t have a favorite. He laughs that children usually ask him this question.

But, if he had to choose one to keep, it would be the last Santa Claus: the Santa Claus of years to come.

« It was very specific of me, » he said.

At the end of the book, he wanted to turn to the Christmases of the future.

You can visit your favorite Santa Claus at The Rooms until January 8th.

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