Thomas Nast Gave Us Santa Claus

By | December 13, 2018

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The real American St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) based on Thomas Nast's famed figure. Undated illustration. BPA2# 5787 (Getty Images)

Ask anyone today to describe Santa Claus and you will pretty much get the same answers…red suit, full white beard, big belly. But our image of the jolly old elf used to be really inconsistent. Santa was depicted in a variety of ways, wearing all sorts of attire and with varying degrees of facial hair. The current consensus on Santa’s appearance stems from one particular drawing by Thomas Nast that appeared in the December 29, 1866, edition of Harper’s Weekly. Here is how Nash developed his depiction of Santa and how the image inspired others. 

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Nast Drew Inspiration from a Famous Poem

When drawing his famous Santa image for Harper’s Weekly, Thomas Nast looked to the description of Santa from A Visit From St. Nicholas, 1822 by Clement Clark Moore. In the poem, which begins with the iconic line “T’was the night before Christmas,” Moore described Santa as having a “beard of his chin was as white as the snow” and “a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.” Images of Santa prior to this often showed him beardless and slim.