Merry Christmas!

Most people do not associate Santa Claus with war, but in fact the connection goes back to Santa’s very beginnings. Our popular image of Santa was created by cartoonist Thomas Nast during the Civil War. Nast’s first Santa illustrations, published in the January 3, 1863 edition of Harper’s Weekly, featured Santa visiting dejected Union soldiers.

Although Santa’s image became ever more jolly after the end of the Civil War, his association with soldiers has proven to be as persistent as war itself, as is illustrated by these Christmas cards from our archives.

World War I

World War II

World War II



  1. […] One of my favorite holiday treasures is hanging in our second floor gallery (The Works). This depiction of a rather naughty St. Nicholas was painted in 1837 by Robert Weir, an American painter and professor of drawing at West Point.  His beardless, gnome-like Santa Claus, dressed in boots and a cap decorated with a clay pipe, the traditional emblem of a saint, was based on an old Dutch convention. The image of Santa Claus varied and evolved considerably throughout the mid-nineteenth century. In Weir’s St. Nicholas, a modern Santa appears in adolescence, looking back at his religious origin, but also heavily influenced by the secular written depictions of New-York Historical Society members Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore (with “a broad face and a little round belly”). Santa’s secular makeover would become complete by the time of the Civil War, as seen in Thomas Nast’s illustrations for Harper’s Weekly. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *