North Jersey History & Genealogy Center

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Thomas Nast and Santa Claus

Santa on Chimney, 1874, by Thomas Nast
Christmas Eve-Santa Claus Waiting for the Children to Get to Sleep  Harper’s Weekly, January 3, 1874

In the mid 19th century American illustrator, political cartoonist and Morristown resident Thomas Nast (1840-1902) was responsible for creating the Victorian image of Santa Claus that we still use today.  This side to Nast’s work is markedly different from the world of political cartoons that he is most famous for. Tales of Saint Nicholas heard during his childhood in Germany provided the adult Nast with the inspiration for his Santa Claus drawings. Originally drawing Santa as an elfish figure wearing a brown fur suit, Nast’s Santa grew in size and the suit evolved into the red coat that resembles the image of the jolly old man that is ubiquitous today.  Nast drew for illustrated books published by McLoughlin Brothers including A Visit From St. Nicholas and Santa Claus and His Works and provided Harper’s Weekly with annual Christmas drawings until 1886.  Additionally, this Christmas themed work allowed Nast to utilize the Morristown neighborhood in which he lived as a backdrop to magical drawings that celebrated the holiday.

Thomas Nast and Christmas in Morristown:

Nast moved to Morristown in 1872 and used views of the town frequently in his Christmas drawings, especially the spires of the town’s churches.  In the latter part of the 19th century, there were no less than seven churches within a few blocks of Nast’s Morristown home.  In the following drawing, the spires of (from left to right) Assumption Church, the Morristown Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, St. Peter’s Church and the current Presbyterian Parish House can be seen.

Santa and Reindeer, Thomas Nast, 1879
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night”, Harper’s Bazaar, January 4, 1879

Our Collection:

Following is a list of just a few of the works that contain Nast Christmas themed illustrations from our collection as well as some of the books that document the history of Christmas art traditions.

Merry old Santa, Thomas Nast, 1881
Merry Old Santa Claus, Harper’s Weekly, January 1, 1881

Christmas Books With Nast Illustrations:

A Thomas Nast Christmas Compendium. Nast, Thomas HM9 Nast Nas

Christmas Compendium, Thomas Nast

Thomas Nast’s Christmas Drawings for the Human Race. Nast, Thomas HM9 Nast Tho

Christmas Drawings of Thomas Nast. Glover, William HM9 Nast Glo

A Child’s Christmas Cookbook. HM9 Nast Chi

Dickens’ Christmas story of Goblins Who Stole a Sexton. Dickens, Charles HM9 Nast Dic

Dicken's Christmas Story

Visit of St. Nicholas, Illustrated by Thomas Nast. Moore, Clement Clarke

HM9 Nast Vis

Santa Claus and his works. Webster, George HM9 Nast Web

For those wanting to explore the Christmas drawings of Thomas Nast further, Dover Publications still has in print Thomas Nast’s Christmas Drawings which includes 66 holiday drawings.

Santa on sleigh, Thomas Nast

Christmas Traditions History:

History of the Christmas card. Buday, Gyorgy HM9 Nast Bud

Inventing Christmas: how our holiday came to be. Elliott, Jock HM9 Nast Ell

Thomas Nast: The man who drew Santa Claus. Rae, John HM9 Nast Rae

Christmas in America: a history. Restad, Penne L. HM9 Nast Res

Santa and Sleigh, by Thomas Nast

In this 1888 edition of Santa Claus and His Works Nast appears to have drawn a home resembling Villa Fontana, his residence in Morristown.