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Our idea of Santa Claus has changed drastically over time.
Photo from Metro Creative

Answers to Go

Sunday, November 27, 2022

San Marcos Public Library

625 E. Hopkins St.


Q.Who is the artist who first drew the image of Santa Claus that is popular today?


While many people attribute the image we have of Santa Claus to Clement C. Moore’s poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” the image of Santa as we see him depicted now has changed through the years because he has been drawn by many different artists.

Clement C. Moore’s poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” originally titled “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” first appeared in the Troy, New York “Sentinel” on Dec. 23, 1823. Saint Nick (aka “Santa Claus”) has also been depicted as a tall gaunt man in a bishop’s robe, a strange looking elf, and, most recently, a plump older gentleman with a snow-white beard, baggy red suit trimmed in white fur and cheery red cheeks and nose. However, the only real description Moore has of him in his poem is:

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his boot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;… His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow; The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath; He had a broad face and a little round belly, That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf.

The history of Santa Claus goes back much further than Clement’s poem, though. The legend of Saint Nick can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas who is believed to have been born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near the city of Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends — and images. (History. Com) An excellent source for images of Saint Nicholas is the book “The Real Santa Claus” by Marianna Mayer (available at the library). The book has over 25 images of the saint depicted by old masters, including Fra Angelico (1387-1455). Other classical artists have depicted him as a young man with a golden halo as he went about his good works. An example of this type of image was painted by Bicci di Lorenzo, 1433-35, and is in the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The image can been seen at: metmuseum. org/art/collection/ search/435668 But what did he really look like? Some scientists in Liverpool, England think they know. On Dec. 6, 2014 (St. Nicholas’s Feast Day) BBC News reported that: The “most realistic” portrait of the saint who became Santa Claus has been produced at a Liverpool university. An image of him has been created using a facial reconstruction system and 3D interactive technology by Liverpool John Moores University’s Face Lab. Professor Caroline Wilkinson said it was based on “all the skeletal and historical material” available. The new depiction, which can be seen at news/uk-england-merseyside- 30354994, uses “the most up-to-date anatomical standards, Turkish tissue depth data and CGI techniques.” It also includes Saint Nicholas’ severely broken nose, which she said had “healed asymmetrically, giving him a characteristic nose and rugged facial appearance.”

Fast forward to the image of Saint Nick as we often see him today. For that image, the Coca Cola Company would like to take credit. Coca Cola has been using Santa Claus in its advertising since the 1920s. In 1931, Coca-Cola commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus, which he did until 1964.

• “Five things you never knew about Santa Claus and Coca-Cola - News & Articles.” The Coca- Cola Company. (n.d.). Retrieved Nov. 20, from company/history/fivethings- you-never-knewabout- santa-claus-and-coca- cola

• Editors. (2010, February 16). “Santa Claus.” History. com. Retrieved Nov. 20 from topics/christmas/santa- claus#:~:text=The%20 legend%20of%20 Santa%20Claus,his%20 piety%20and%20kindness% 2C%20St.

Suzanne Sanders is the columnist for the library. She is the Community Services Manager for the San Marcos Public Library and came from the Austin Public Library in 2015 after having served there as a librarian for over 20 years. She gratefully accepts your questions for this column.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666