The Man Who Created Santa
As We Know Him Today

Although he could not read or write, Thomas Nast is a perfect example of the importance of knowing our heritage and just how many legacies one person can leave behind. Thomas Nast, through his wood engravings, helped to shape customs not only in America but also throughout the world.

Thomas Nast is best known for his Christmas drawings. His first drawing appeared in Harper's Weekly for Christmas of 1862, marking the first appearance of Santa Claus as we know him today. Prior to this, Santa had passed through a series of stages beginning with a more religious-type figure.

The inspiration for how Nast's Santa should look came from Clement Moore's poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Still lacking reading skills, he had his wife read to him while he prepared his drawings and engravings. On one occasion, Mrs. Nast read Clement Moore's poem to Thomas. That was all it took for inspiration.

The next 24 years saw Nast produce 76 Christmas engravings that were signed and published. Nast used Moore's poem to put it all together in visual form - a sleigh, reindeer, jolly old elf, filling the stockings hung by the chimney, and so forth.

In addition, Nast used his own imagination to expand upon the theme. He was the first to establish that Santa's home was in the North Pole. In this way, Santa didn't belong to any one country - he became a citizen of the world. The concept of Santa having a workshop and elves to help him was also Nast's idea. Prior to his engravings, all children received gifts from Santa. Nast conceived the idea that bad children didn't get gifts from Santa. The custom of sending Santa a letter is also due to Thomas Nast. Although the custom of kissing under mistletoe was known in Europe prior to Nast's engravings, it was through his engravings in America that the custom caught on there.

Thomas Nast brought Christmas to a large audience through his engravings. The result of the impact that these drawings had on Americans is astronomical. In Europe, Christmas was observed for centuries on December 6. By the late 1800's when Nast's Santa Claus gained popularity, Christmas Day was legally established as December 25 in all states and territories in the United States. In addition, an extended school vacation during this period became a custom. (A brief pause while all students write a thank you note to the Nast estate.)

From this seed, Christmas began the move to commercial and economic interests. Stores began including drawings of Santa (though not necessarily done by Nast) in their ads and tying it in with Christmas sales and promotions. Soon to follow was the custom of sending Christmas cards. Without Nast and the Christmas drawings that he brought to the masses, it is hard to tell what Christmas and the customs that go with it would be like today.

I Reminisce:
Quintuplets In 1848?

In the summer of 1980 I spent my vacation in Mammoth Cave National Park; we did the tourist thing and took a tour of the cave. The next morning we headed to their wilderness camping area. To get to the area there was a dirt road. At the end of the dirt road there was a small parking lot next to a church. The church was obviously old as it was made entirely of wood, had no paint on it, and was leaning a good 20 degrees or more. To the left of the church was a graveyard. While it was not overrun with weeds, it did look desolate. Old cemeteries always fascinate me. I usually give the graveyard a good look over to see what the oldest and newest grave is. Most of the graves were dated between the 1850's and 1870's. However, in the back of the cemetery was a row of six graves. On the far left the marker stated "Ann Davis - October 1, 1848." Then to the right were five more grave markers. Each stated the same information: "Infant Davis - October 1, 1848." The only reason I could think of for all dying the same day would be that the mother died giving birth to quintuplets. Quintuplets in 1848 - long before fertility drugs?

"Found Money"
    A while back I learned of an Internet site that contained a database of people who had money due them by various states. This happens, typically, when bank accounts are dormant for an extended period of time, unclaimed paychecks, unclaimed money from wills, etc. After a period of time this money is turned over to the state where it stays until the rightful person claims it.

    I went to the site, selected my state and then entered my name. Sure enough, my name WAS on the list. I downloaded the application form from the site and filled it out and mailed it. About a month later I recevied a check from the state in the amount of $84.00. It was the money owed me from 37 years ago when I failed to receive my last paycheck from my employer at the time.

    The Web site URL is: National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. Click the "Find Property" link at the top left of that page. Then select the state desired. If you lived in another state years ago, try that state also. Good luck!

December EXTRA Contest

1) Ben Franklin is credited with inventing several items. List four of them.

2) Which computer game do you want to win?


  • Biofocals
  • Redesign of a wood-burning stove (Pennsylvania Fireplace)
  • The armonica (known as the glass armonica or glass harmonica)
  • Lightning rod
  • Odometer
  • Swim fins
  • Catheter
  • Battery

    Eighty-four people entered the EXTRA contest. Twelve were disqualified because they did not have the correct subject heading in their email entry. Four people entered twice. Three people that won a prize in 2004 entered but were disqualified. Seventeen people did not indicate which prize they wanted to win. Nine people, while stating they wanted to win a DVD, did not indicate which DVD. This left only thirty-nine people eligible to win. Twenty-seven indicated they wanted the Benjamin Franklin DVD as their prize if they won. (Only one was available.)


  • Stan Edington - California
  • R. Foster - Delaware
  • Bob Milton - Alabama
  • Terry Barton, Sr - Tennesse
  • Robert Clark - Tennesse

  • This Issue's Question

    1) Since most of the prizes offered this issue are DVD movies, I thought I would make the trivia question related to a classic movie. The question is: There was a famous 20th century trial that the movie Inherit the Wind was based on. One of the lawyers in that famous case ran twice for President of the United States but lost both times. Who was this lawyer?

    2) Which ONE of the prizes offered do you want to win?

    Contest Rules

    • Contest entry deadline is Tuesday, December 14, 2004. Later entries will be disqualified.

    • Only one entry per subscriber.

    • To enter, email your answer to help@historybuff.com with the subject heading "Contest Entry."

    • From subscribers submitting the correct answer and correct subject heading, as well as advising which prize they want to win, eight will be selected to win one of the prizes below.

    • Subscribers to this newsletter that won a prize in my trivia contests in the last 90 days are ineligible to win.

    DVD's (Select only one DVD or the Civil War Newspaper)
    Grand Prize (One winner will be selected)
    Deluxe French Revolution Box Set Includes:
  • Red velvet bag with a DVD of the Documentary, Booklet, and CD filled with full color paintings
  • Two French Gourmet Cookbooks
  • Slip case to hold the contents

  • D.O.A. (1950)

    Starring Edmond O'Brien

    Angel and the Badman (1947)

    Starring John Wayne

    Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)

    Starring Bela Lugosi

    History Channel Documentary
    about the fall of the Alamo

    The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

    Starring Peter Lorre

    Bugs Bunny Cartoon Craze

    Over a full hour of early classic
    Bugs Bunny Animation

    Original Historic Boston Daily Journal Civil War Newspaper
    (Two winners awarded one newspaper each)
    That's it for this issue.

    Rick Brown

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