Santa as we know him was invented in New York

New Amsterdam’s 17th century colonists celebrated “Sinte Klaas” every December 6. The “jolly old elf” who drops toys down chimneys dates to 1823, when “A Visit From St. Nicholas” was published anonymously in an upstate newspaper.


But the Santa we know today was refined and modernized by Harper’s Weekly illustrator Thomas Nast, whose first depiction of a gift-giving, rotund father figure was published during the December 1862 holiday season, with Civil War raging.

“Nast’s Santa appears on the cover of the paper in an illustration titled ‘Santa Claus in Camp.’ states a website called Civil War Profiles.


“Nast drew a patriotic Santa dressed in striped pants and a coat covered with stars sitting on his sleigh beneath a waving American flag. Two drummer boys in the foreground of the sketch appear fascinated with a jack-in-the-box toy. One soldier is shown opening his box to find a stocking stuffed with presents, while another soldier holds up the pipe he received as a present.”


To make it even clearer which side Santa took in the War Between the States, Nast drew Santa holding a wooden effigy of Confederate president Jefferson Davis by a rope.

This cover illustration is one of two that feature Santa Claus on a sleigh in that January 3, 1863 issue. Inside is a more sentimental Nast drawing.

TheGildedAgeinNewYorkcoverIn one panel, a young mother prays for her soldier husband’s safe return from war. In the second panel, the husband is sitting beside a fire, ostensibly thinking of his family.

And atop the roof is a small bearded man, his reindeer-drawn sleigh parked beside him as he looks down the chimney.

Santa Claus, electric Christmas tree lights, the first tree lighting in a park—New York pioneered many of the holiday celebrations we take part in today, as The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910, explains.

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3 Responses to “Santa as we know him was invented in New York”

  1. Brian G Andersson Says:

    One of the Harper Brothers, James, became Mayor of New York City.1844-45. Thomas Nast the illustrator is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx

  2. diane frisch Says:

    Thomas Nast actually lived and wrote in nearby Morristown, NJ. There is a plaque outside his home.

  3. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    My dear friend, the late-Robert Palmer shared a story with me back in the 1970s. He told of being a youngster at a summer camp. He became fast friends wih one of the older lads who was a Counselor. The pair went to the Counselor’s home and while there, Palmer — who was just a boy at the time — took notice of the beautiful paintings and drawings decorating the walls of the homeplace. He spoke of how he just stood transfixed gazing at the artwork. The Counselor explained: “These were all done by my Grandfather. Perhaps you’ve heard of him – his name was THOMAS NAST!”

    Now the twist to the tale is the fact Robert Palmer grew up to be a professional cartoonist and artist. He was last employed by the Springfield News & Leader in Missouri. The question remains — ‘Did this happenstance – ‘to have been ‘somewhat’ near the great NAST’ have any influence on his life’s profession?’ (Upon hearing of this marvelous memory, I was in awe of his opportunity to see the family’s collection.) Regretfully, I never asked about the influence of witnessing origional examples of Nast’s talent…

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