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Before the 1820's, the image of Santa Claus was of a slim man who gave out gifts, but who was not always associated with Christmas Eve. As the depiction in A Visit from St. Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore, became more widely known, the plump figure of Santa slipping down the chimney on Christmas Eve that is so familiar became more associated with the Christmas tradition. Over time, and with the influence of artists such as Thomas Nast, Santa Claus became a large, round man, much like we know him today. All three of these images were designed by Nast and published in Harper's Weekly. On the left is "Santa Claus's Mail," from December 30, 1871. In the center is "Seeing Santa Claus," from January 1, 1876, and on the left is "Christmas Eve," from January 3, 1874. Click to enlarge.


St. Nicholas was the patron saint of Greece and Russia, and until he became associated with Christmas in the way that A Visit from Saint Nicholas describes him, he was always illustrated and described as a bishop. This 1846 sheet music cover, Santa Claus' Quadrilles, was published in New York and does not depict Santa as a bishop, but as a jovial character, though much more slim than how Nast illustrates him. This illustration was likely influenced by the description of Christmas and Santa Claus that Washington Irving gives in his satirical History of New York, which was published on December 6, 1809, Saint Nicholas' Day. Irving's publications about Christmas became very popular, helping to draw interest in celebrating Christmas, and influenced artists and writers for years to come. Click to enlarge.



The Children's Friend, published in 1821, was probably the first time Santa Claus appeared in association with Christmas Eve. Although A Visit from Saint Nicholas has been credited with the introduction of reindeer to Santa's sleigh, a reindeer appears in The Children's Friend. Santa Claus is dressed in red as he delivers toys and books to good children and a birch rod to naughty ones. The text and illustrations of The Children's Friend are anonymous. Click to enlarge.


Depictions of Santa Claus combine elements of a slender St. Nicholas and the figure described in A Visit from St. Nicholas. We are familiar with a plump figure, like this circa 1900 illustration on the left, from A Christmas Alphabet. Click to enlarge.

The illustration to the right is from the 1888 McLoughlin Brothers pamplet titled Santa Claus and His Works, by George Webster. It illustrates the work that Santa does to prepare for Christmas. Click the illustration to view others from the same pamplet.




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