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American Santa – From Nast to Now

From The Day:

Donder and Blitzen (German for “thunder” and “lightning”) first made their appearance in 1823, springing from the pen of Clement Clarke Moore in his classic poem “The Night before Christmas.” Up until that time Americans were pretty hazy regarding Santa Claus, the patron saint of Christmas. Moore would help define him as a sack-bearing, chimney-climbing gift-giver, a reindeer-powered sleigh operator, an overweight and jolly sojourner from the northlands and, despite Moore’s personal distaste for tobacco, a pipe-smoking, wreath-encircled bearer of goodwill.

It was during America’s Civil War that Thomas Nast came into prominence as America’s foremost cartoonist and illustrator. Physically unfit for military service, he became a war correspondent for Harper’s Weekly, and his drawings of battles and conditions at the front soon began to reach into many American homes.

It was an illustration titled “Santa Claus Comes in Camp” where Nast first prominently used the image of Santa Claus. For inspiration he had his wife Sarah read him the Clement Clarke Moore poem before beginning the work. Nast would go on to create some 76 Christmas drawings over his lifetime and, in the process, help to define Santa Claus as we know him today.

From Hyperallergic:

Before Nast put pen to paper, Santa was more commonly represented as a waifish, disciplinarian figure clad in a bishop’s vestments. Nast’s rendition reimagined Santa as cheerful and giving. His new mode of illustrating Santa owed to his hybridization of traditional European depictions of Saint Nicholas and Germanic folk images of elves. Many of the fantastical elements of Christmas that have since become ubiquitous in cards, children’s books, and Christmases in parks were Nast’s doing. He propagated representations of reindeer-drawn sleighs, icicle-ornamented awnings, Christmas villages, and stockings on mantles. He was also responsible for establishing Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. During his lifetime, the North Pole was a place of mystery and danger; several explorers embarked on expeditions to the Arctic, and it wouldn’t be until after Nast’s death that Robert Peary could claim the distinction of being the first to reach the geographic North Pole. Placing Santa’s headquarters there was therefore an appropriately mystical and secular choice. 

In 1889, after leaving Harper’s and having made a series of poor financial investments left him in a tough spot, his former colleagues offered to compile his Christmas drawings in a book. That book was Christmas Drawings for the Human Race — a publication that did much to keep Nast afloat. It included his iconic holiday pictures that had appeared in the magazine over a period of three decades.

That book is where our Nast drawing are drawn from.


The Twentieth Century saw some fine tuning to Santa’s appearance.
And then Coca Cola hired Haddon Sundblom for an ad campaign…

From KGW8:

Coca-Cola first began using a version of Santa Claus Coca-Cola says was more reminiscent of Nast’s in advertisements in the 1920s, the company says. Then in 1931, Coca-Cola commissioned artist Haddon Sundblom to draw Santa Claus for its ad campaigns, and the company says he used Moore’s poem as his primary inspiration. Moore’s poem didn’t describe the color of Santa’s suit, and Coca-Cola doesn’t say what inspired Sundblom to choose red and white, but the red and white color scheme established by Nast 50 years prior had become commonplace.

Who can deny that the Sundblom/Coke take became the definitive version?


In this age of skepticism some may deny that the magical man exists.
Well, Arizona Daily Star editorial cartoonist David Fitzsimmons
reassures us that Yes America, There is a Santa Claus.




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