In light of the Santa shortage around the world, let’s look at where the trend of kids sitting on some stranger’s lap and asking him for stuff comes from.

Mall Santa and boy - Mall Santas - How St. Nick Went From Shunned To Shopping Fixture

__ drz __/Unsplash

Poor Santa.

The idea of Santa Claus was inspired by Saint Nicholas, who hailed from the Mediterranean during the Roman Empire and was regarded as the patron saint of children. Also, sailors and brewers and thieves, but mostly children because of the many wonders he supposedly performed. One of his legends had him resurrect three murdered children who were already dismembered and their bodies pickled in barrels in some innkeeper’s basement. Ho-ho-holy hell; St. Nick was less “holiday spirit” and more wizard detective in some horror show.

Anyway, since his death, Europeans have celebrated him (yeah, no kidding) come every December 6, with the Dutch calling him Sint Nikolaas or, in short, Sinterklaas, which is where the name Santa Claus comes from. When Dutch immigrants traveled to the Americas, they brought their love for Sinterklaas with them, but the New World at first saw the celebration of a gift-giver guy as too pagan for their liking because joy was forbidden back then. The holiday was shunned in New England, but at the turn of the 19th century, people started warming up to the idea of a family celebration with a gift-giving figure at its helm thanks to writers and poets who wrote about “Santa.”

Of course, it didn’t take long for the image of Santa to be used as propaganda. During the Civil War, political cartoonist Thomas Nast— the guy responsible for the Republican party’s elephant and popularizing the Democrats’ donkey — was the first to draw the modern image of Santa Claus as we know him. Only, his Santa was wearing stars and stripes and sat on top of a cart full of presents, handing them out to Union Army soldiers.

Civil War Santa drawing - Mall Santas - How St. Nick Went From Shunned To Shopping Fixture

Harper’s Weekly via The Met

You either got socks or a puppet who looked like Jefferson Davis being hanged back then.

In 1868, Santa was used in an attempt to sell Sugar Plums.

Santa Sugar Plum ad - Mall Santas - How St. Nick Went From Shunned To Shopping Fixture

U.S. Confection Co., N.Y./Wikimedia Commons

And that was only the beginning of the jolly old man with his bright little outfit being used to sell us crap and/or being the face of war propaganda.

Santa War Bonds ad - Mall Santas - How St. Nick Went From Shunned To Shopping Fixture

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

Circa WWI.
Santa mineral water ad - Mall Santas - How St. Nick Went From Shunned To Shopping Fixture

White Rock Beverages

Santa selling White Rock water circa 1916.
Santa war ad - Mall Santas - How St. Nick Went From Shunned To Shopping Fixture

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

Circa WWII.

But even before Coca-Cola would turn St. Nicholas into thicc old white boi Santa, the Mall Santa was born. The first in-store Santa made his appearance in 1890 in Brockton, Massachusetts. It was all the idea of store owner James Edgar, who had a suit specially made in Boston for his store Santa, and had some good word of mouth happening because kids came from all over, traveling with their parents to see the real-life Santa make an appearance in Edgar’s dry goods store. 

When asked why he decided to play Store Santa, he supposedly said, “I have never been able to understand why the great gentleman lives at the North Pole. He is so far away … only able to see the children one day a year. He should live closer to them.”

Ah, that’s nice. For the kids, and for today’s Santas who can earn a good buck or two this time of year listening to kids wishing to go viral on TikTok for Christmas or whatever.

Top Image: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

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