My Five Fave Santas

I am a Santa Claus aficionado. Did you know he only came into existence in 1841, the year Philadelphia merchant J.W. Parkinson hired a man to dress in a crimson suit and climb in and out of a makeshift chimney outside his shop? The advertising ploy worked, but Santa did not become the universal Claus until 1862, when political cartoonist Thomas Nast rendered the quintessential Christmas icon in pen and ink.

Nast originated this archetype (below top) while working for New York’s Harper’s Weekly in an attempt to spiritually uplift Union Army soldiers and their families who made sacrifices during the darkest days of the bloody Civil War. Santa, the deputized monitor of who’s naughty and nice, bestowed toys on well-behaved children everywhere. Nast further developed Santa mythology by incorporating such German folk characters as dwarfs and elves as trusted helpers. In 1866, Nast’s drawing entitled “Santa Claus and His Works” established him as a toy maker par excellence, and in 1869, Nast established the frigid and mysterious North Pole as site of Santa’s bustling workshop.

Without further ado, here are my five fave Santas. Dan Adel’s Miley Cyrus Claus takes the top honor. Nast is second, Norman Rockwell (below that), and then the rest (below).

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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