Skeptics have questioned the science of Christmas Eve deliveries since the Victorian Santa Claus became popular. They attempted to calculate his distance travelled across multiple time zones, the estimated number of households he visits and the weight of his gifts. They say his job defies physics. But true believers know that Santa always delivers. The following images show how a resourceful Victorian Santa Claus kept current with travel trends of the Industrial Revolution to get his job done.
It’s no secret that our beloved Santa is an amalgamation of centuries-old characters and legends from multiple cultures and across continents. In England, Father Time was the man. In the West, Father Time blended with a Victorian Santa with his image as a jolly round man in a red suit eventually coalesced with decades of marketing campaigns. But it took some time for Santa’s makeover to be finalized.
The original Saint Nicholas (born around 280 A.D.) was probably from what is now Turkey. He traveled the countryside giving gifts, helping the poor and sick.
1809-By the early 1800s, Saint Nicholas (Sinter Klaas) made inroads into American culture largely via Dutch communities. Washington Irving referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York. Sinter Klaas, who had not yet gotten his jolly makeover or his red suit, had a questionable character. He was sometimes considered a rascal and prankster. He was probably still in foot and horseback.
1822-Clement Clarke Moore published the long Christmas poem he wrote for his daughters. He titled it “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” This work established the Victorian Santa image we know today. Moore described a portly “right jolly old elf” who could launch down chimneys with the nod of his head.
Much of Santa’s style elements were probably already present in other sources, but the total look was popularized by this poem, Among them, were the iconic sleigh with eight flying reindeer that transported the Victorian Santa around the world in defiance of physics.
1881 – Political cartoonist Thomas Nast used Moore’s poem to create what became the definitive Victorian Santa that we know to this day. It first appeared in Harper’s Weekly. By now, Santa’s style was clearly defined. He wore a red suit trimmed in white and had a workshop at the North Pole teeming with elves. And yes, there was a Mrs. Claus.
1939-As evidenced in these images, Victorian Santa clearly embraced the new forms of travel offered by the changing times. But in the end, his sleigh and reindeers have proven most effective.
By 1939, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was no longer the victim of bullying. He was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter for the Montgomery Ward department store. His poem, ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas,” told the story we all know today. The under dog story proved to be a keeper, as was Rudolph to Santa’s team.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!