Dean Matter was just 6 years old in 1944 when he created his paper Santa ornament.
His first-grade teacher at Madison School showed the class how to cut the Santa from paper and tack his limbs on with fasteners, so the arms and legs moved.
Matter colored the jolly old elf’s jacket with a red crayon and added some glitter for good measure. He ran home and proudly presented the ornament to his mother, who hung it on the Christmas tree.
“It was probably the height of my art career,” said Matter, now 72.
Decades later, the paper Santa maintains its place of honor on Matter’s own Christmas tree, a remarkable feat having survived dozens of Christmases in a family of 11 children.
“My mother had it on her tree, and then when my wife and I got married 50 years ago we started putting it on ours,” Matter said. “You can see part of his face is gone. I don’t know how this thing stays together.”
Each year after Christmas, the Matters carefully fold the Santa and put him in an envelope to keep him safe for another year.
The family also decorates a small log cabin built by Matter’s father more than 100 years ago. It has tiny glass windows, a swinging door and a fence made from the twigs.