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gallery 2 Santa Kariagozi  

magazine cover illustration

The Athenian, Athens
December 1985

ink and gouache

© David John 1984
Santa Kariagozi painting by David John  

Kariagozi is a traditional shadow-puppet character from Turkey and Greece. He is also known as Karagiozis, Karaghiozi, Kareagozi or under his Turkish name Karagöz.

He is a ragged folk hero and trickster, part Punch and part Robin Hood. In many of his adventures he disguises himself as a priest, soldier or rich man in order to fool his unwitting victims. As far as I know this was the first time he appeared as Saint Nicholas. In fact a few Greek people were initially perplexed by this representation: until recently Christmas was not celebrated in Greece as it is in western Europe (Easter being their most important holiday) and Santa Claus was largely unknown.

The puppets are made of thin translucent leather or paper, brightly painted and operated with sticks. The figures are usually seen in profile, with long articulated arms which look like strings of sausages.

The puppeteers roam the country with their booths, puppets and props, drawing a crowd of all ages when they set up in a village or town square. A great part of the shows' popular appeal, especially in Greece, lies in the satirical content which for many years of political oppression was a rarity.

This Kariagozi is definitely of the Greek variety, and is seen here walking through the streets of Athens (yes it does snow in Athens). Is he delivering presents or hauling off somebody's silverware?

This picture is dedicated to Venia Karolidou, who taught me much about Greek and Mediterranean culture.
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