By: Madison Beckman
When people think Christmas, they are immediately reminded of the holiday’s most famous mascot: Santa Claus. But how much do we really know about the origins of this beloved holiday figure?
According to History.com, the modern Santa Claus we know and love today is primarily thanks to the efforts of two New Yorkers.
The first is a man named Clement Clark Moore. In 1823, Moore wrote the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” which is more popularly known today as “Twas the Night before Christmas.”
In the poem, Moore meshed together two different cultural icons. Sinter Klaus, the Dutch depiction of Saint Nicholas, a third century monk from present day Turkey celebrated for his generosity, and Odin, the pagan god of the Germanic festival Yule who was believed to fly the sky on his eight-legged horse.
The poem helped revolutionize the way the world saw St. Nick. Up to this point, he was depicted as a priest-like character. However, Moore challenged this view by describing him as a “jolly elf” who smoked a pipe, carried a bag of toys for children and flew in a sleigh led by eight reindeer.
The second New Yorker who helped shape the modern image of Santa Claus was Thomas Nast. If Nast’s name sounds familiar, it is most likely because you used one of his infamous political cartoons in your DBQ exams back in high school. But, what most people do not realize is that he is also responsible for creating the image of Santa Claus.
In 1881, Nast was hired by Harper’s Weekly, a popular magazine at the time, to do their holiday illustrations. With these, Nast built upon Moore’s poem and added things we all associate Santa with today. He made his interpretation of Santa taller and impressive, including elements like the “naughty and nice list,” the workshop in the North Pole and the fur-lined red suit. This depiction was the basis for Coca Cola’s ad campaigns during the 1930s, which became one of the most influential representations of Santa to date.
If it were not for the contributions of Moore and Nast, Americans would view Santa in a completely different way, if at all.