Thomas Nast Portfolio


"Merry Old Santa Claus," Harper's Weekly, January 1, 1881,
p.8-9. Wood engraving.

     Thomas Nast “invented” the image popularly recognized
as Santa Claus. Nast first drew Santa Claus for the 1862
Christmas season Harper’s Weekly cover and center-fold
illustration to memorialize the family sacrifices of the Union
during the early and, for the north, darkest days of the Civil
War. Nast’s Santa appeared as a kindly figure representing
Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of Christ. When
Nast created his image of Santa Claus he was drawing on
his native German tradition of Saint Nicholas, a fourth
century bishop known for his kindness and generosity. In
the German Christian tradition December 6 was (and is)
Saint Nicholas day, a festival day honor of Saint Nicholas
and a day of gift giving. Nast combined this tradition of
Saint Nicholas with other German folk traditions of elves to
draw his Santa in 1862. The claim that Nast “invented’
Santa Claus in 1862 is thus accurate, but the assertion
overlooks the centuries-long antecedents to his invention.


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