Santas I have known:

•My earliest recollection of St. Nick probably comes from an old black-and-white 8 mm silent movie. 

Back in the day — maybe Pleistocene era — an outfit called Castle Films used to re-edit theatrical films to make 8 mm silent versions that could be shown on a home movie projector.

Never heard of a home projector? That’s your loss. I can still smell the aroma of hot dust and heat that ours used to generate.

In the 1950s, before television had swept us all up in its wake, it wasn’t at all uncommon for homes like ours to have a projector that could show home movies and re-edited Castle versions of things like Abbott and Costello. 

The fact that they were silent didn’t seem to matter much, nor the fact that they were in black and white. Most movies were black and white at the time. And it was easy for the film editors to slip in new “title” slides that substituted for dialogue.

My family had a couple of these: A weird cartoon version of Puss and Boots, one with Pluto stuck in flypaper, Abbott and Costello with a women’s basketball team and — of course — The Night Before Christmas.

That’s probably where I met Santa.

He looked, in the film, as if he had just walked out of 19th century England or a Thomas Nast drawing in a turn-of-the-century magazine. In other words, he was pretty much the prototype.

He was quickly followed by:

•The Coca-Cola Santa. That’s the image that was impossible to escape during the 1950s, 1960s and decades beyond.

The big difference was color. While the old movie was in black and white, this Santa was in living color, with cheeks so rosy you wanted to pinch them.

You’d find him on billboards and supermarket displays and — most memorably — on metal trays at the nearest soda fountain, where his grinning visage looked up at you when you received your soft drink.

•Fast forward a few decades and I’m on my way to Pennville on a chilly December night. I have a camera with me, and my assignment is to record the arrival of Santa on the Pennville Volunteer Fire Department truck so he can hand out pre-Christmas treats to all the kiddies.

It’s a crowded scene on a side street beside what was then the only bank in town.

And it’s not an easy assignment, given the lighting and a flash attachment that wasn’t always reliable.

But the truck arrives, bearing the long-awaited Santa.

And when I look through the viewfinder, I recognize him.

It was Lloyd Paxson, a prominent farmer and thoughtful county commissioner.

“Hi Jack!” he shouted, impressing all the kids around me. You know Santa, mister?

Lloyd loved the role, but he didn’t look all that much like Santa.

He looked like Lloyd, with his ruddy, smiling farmer’s face and gleaming eyes above the fake beard.

A more convincing look belonged to:

•Larry Brown. Dunkirk may never have known a better Santa.

I certainly haven’t.

Like Lloyd, he called me by name. (You can’t get enough of having Santa call you by name.)

And his beard and his “bowl full of jelly” were undeniably real.

He not only looked the part, he was the part.

Sadly, Larry’s gone and so is Lloyd. The old black-and-white movies have crumbled to dust, and the Coke trays from the soda fountain are sold on eBay.

But you know what?

Santa manages to live on.