Santa Claus Through the Years

By Maureen A. Taylor

The depiction of Santa has changed a lot over the years from a thin person with variously shaped beards to the icon we recognize today. He didn’t always wear red. According to Holiday Symbols by Sue Ellen Thompson (2000)the modern depiction of him is a combination of the English Father Christmas, the German St. Nicholas and the Dutch Sinter Klaas. Technology brought kids a new way to imagine Santa by giving them new fictional interpretations and ways to listen to him. Here’s an overview of this loved Christmas character.

In 1843, Charles Dickens featured him as “the ghost of Christmas present” in a green robe with a wreath on his head in the original Christmas Carol.

Wikipedia “Santa Claus” accessed December 21, 2015

By 1868 children no longer had to dream of sugar plums, their parents could buy them. The United States Confection Company used an illustration of a white-bearded Santa wearing a tasseled hat standing astride a reindeer led sleigh as an advertisement for a sweet treat.

Library of Congress

The twentieth century solidified Santa’s look as a full figured, white bearded fellow. The Christmas 1901 Puck magazine featured an angry looking Santa with children and a baby. Toys and books were popular gifts. Notice the Victrola held by the bespectacled boy. The National Jukebox project of the Library of Congress allows us to listen to Gilbert Girard aka Santa Claus tell us about his toy shop (1918).

L. Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz, wrote a new Christmas classic in 1902, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus which is available on the Internet Archive. It was adapted for a film of the same name in 1985.

The new century brought Santa to the movies too. You can find a list of him in early films on Wikipedia. Who can forget the first time they saw, Miracle of 34th street?

This holiday, have fun gazing at these old depictions of Santa, listening to his voice and sitting down with family to watch a classic film.

Happy Holidays!

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now