Art: Images of Santa

Dec 25, 2013

Thomas Nast's 1863 depiction of Santa Claus in Harper's
Credit Wikimedia Commons

During the Christmas season, we are surrounded by images of Santa Claus-- yes, that jolly, rotund man with his famous white beard on a mission to deliver presents to children around the world. We see Santa surrounded by elves and reindeer at the North Pole, but where did this image of Santa Claus come from?

Santa Claus is understood to be a descendent from St. Nicholas, who was a 4th-century Greek Bishop of Myra - a city in modern day Turkey. St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children, travelers and scholars, among others, and took part in the bishop’s council that signed the Nicene Creed into doctrine.

But Santa Claus, in his current visual representation, is an American creation that appears as early as the 19th century. The modern version of Santa Claus first appeared in 1863 by political cartoonist Thomas Nast.

Our current version of Santa Claus is distinctly different from St. Nicholas and bears no connection to other midwinter European traditions or the Latin Three Kings Day. Instead, the robust, white-bearded fellow donning a red suit represents America worldwide.

But, regardless of what he looks like, Santa– who is real– is more than a bearer of presents. His visit lets people know that they are loved and cared for. And it is this holiday spirit and goodwill that brings friends and families together. Happy holidays everyone!