The image of Santa Claus is pretty much omnipresent in the month of December, but how many people actually know where it comes from? Santa has his origins in numerous characters from the myths, legends, and stories of many different cultures; Saint Nicholas is his best-known but not only antecedent. As such, Santa Claus takes many diverse forms and personalities throughout the world, and I hope to have a chance to show you at least a few this month. However, the portly, red-suited old man with white hair and beard that is most familiar to the western world, comes from a clear source – the artwork of Thomas Nast. Nast (1840-1902) was a German-American illustrator and frequent contributor to Harpers Weekly. In addition to drawing the now-standard Santa image, he also created or popularized several national images including Uncle Sam and contributed to the downfall of the New York City’s corrupt Tammany Hall through his art.
As a fun bonus, check out the St. Nicholas Center: Discovering the Truth About Santa Claus