Miracle on 34th Street - A VISIT FROM SAINT NICHOLAS

During America’s Civil War, Thomas Nast created this illustration featuring a Santa Clause. It was one of the first-ever depictions of Santa Clause in America. The image was published on the cover of the January 3, 1963 issue of Harper's Weekly (and shows Santa Claus giving presents to the soldiers). The Library of Congress maintains a copy of the original. Click on the image for a full-page view.


Clement Moore wrote a much-loved poem "A Visit from Saint Nicholas"—now known as "The Night Before Christmas"—on Christmas Eve, 1822. A gift for his six children, it was the first time anyone described Saint Nicholas as fat and jolly. (Moore probably derived the description from other literary works referring to Dutch merchants in those terms.)

It wasn't the first time a reindeer was part of the Santa Claus story, though. That occurred a year earlier, in a poem called "The Children's Friend." Expanding the number of reindeer from one to eight, Moore also gave them names.

About 40 years after A Visit From St. Nicholas was published, Thomas Nast used Moore's "fat and jolly" description to help create the familiar Santa Claus of today. As an illustrator for Harper's Weekly, Nast created numerous Christmas Drawings. His most famous, from 1881, pictures St. Nick with a rotund belly while his first, from 1863, shows Santa siding with the Union Army. That drawing, requested by President Lincoln, demoralized the Confederates.

Nast's engravings depict children calling, or mailing, their mounting requests to a Santa who tries to please. Instead of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint OF children, we now have Saint Nicholas, the patron saint FOR children.

Clement Moore and Thomas Nast particularly helped create that fundamental transition. One can only wonder what the real Saint Nicholas would make of his gift-giving legend today. And one can only imagine what Dorey Walker would have said in Miracle on 34th Street had she known what you now know!

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 01, 2006

Updated Last Revision: Jul 10, 2019

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