What image comes to mind when you think of Santa Claus? Chances are good that it is very similar to the ones brought to life by Thomas Nast, best known as a nineteenth century political cartoonist. He has also been credited with creating the image of Santa we know today.
Thomas Nast was a German immigrant who settled in New York City with his parents in 1846. The artistic promise he showed in childhood blossomed, and in 1862 he became a sketch artist for a new publication, Harper's Weekly. Nast's love of Santa, paired with the magazine's eye for morale-boosting during those dark days, resulted in his drawing of Santa visiting a Union camp. This sketch was published in Harper's Weekly magazine on January 3, 1863.
Nast's image of Santa was inspired by Clement Moore's poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," but he also borrowed from an image he recalled from childhood, Pelze-Nicol (Saint Nicholas), a kindly German saint who visited homes all over Germany. To the Santa that Clement Moore envisioned, Nast added a fur-trimmed red suit and a workshop at the North Pole. He also originated the idea that children could send letters to Santa, who would read them all. Thomas Nast's Christmas drawings continued in Harper's Weekly for more than twenty years.
To learn more about Nast, join us for the program Civil War Santa at the Midwest Genealogy Center on Saturday, December 8 at 10:00 a.m. Jim Two Crows Wallen, dressed as Nast's Santa, will describe Christmases during this dark time of American history using actual letters from soldiers, parents, and children. The program is free, but registration is required.
Midwest Genealogy Center