Santa Claus

Funny Historical Letters to Santa Clause

At the end of the 19th century, the illustrator Thomas Nast popularized our current version of Santa Claus: a fat, jolly man with a white beard and a red suit who lives at the North Pole. Nast’s cartoons in publications like Harper’s Weekly also helped spread the idea of sending St. Nick mail. By the late 1870s, American children had begun mailing their Christmas wish lists to Santa, but the Post Office considered these letters undeliverable. Around this time, newspapers started prompting children to send wish lists to them, which would then be published so that Santa (and parents, and philanthropists looking to offer gifts to needy children) could read the letters all in one place. We’ve collected 23 funny historical letters from children to Santa Claus, as printed in newspapers across the U.S.

Conrad tries to mask his violent tendencies by interspersing the weapons between non-threatening gifts, but he shows his hand with that threat at the end.

Clifford sounds … intense.

“As I can not have it I will not ask for it, but just in case, I will mention it…”
“I smashed everything you sent me last year. I won’t tell you what I want this year, but you better not mess up.”

This 4-year-old is very concerned about his infant brother’s lack of teeth. Since the local doctor has proved useless to rectify the situation, Paul hopes Santa might be able to lend a hand. He is magical, after all.

Who knew keeping your feet dry was such an important part of…

The History of Mrs. Claus

Modern Christmas lore is expansive enough to fill an encyclopedia. We’ve got songs about reindeer and snowmen, weird elf traditions, and letters to Santa. But how much do we really know about Mrs. Claus?

Marriage is a relatively new gig for Santa Claus. There’s no record of his original incarnation, Bishop of Myra St. Nicholas, having a wife. Although it’s not impossible for a fourth century Turkish bishop to have had a wife, the figure would expand and morph until, by the end of the 18th century, the bishop had transitioned into a full-time behavior monitor, jolly-maker, and bringer of toys.

But even mythological love affairs don’t just pop up overnight. It would be years and years before Santa found his lady. The first mention of Mrs. Claus appears in the 1849 short story “A Christmas Legend” by missionary James Rees, in which a couple disguise themselves, angel-like, as travelers, and seek shelter with a family. As it turns out, the two strangers are not the Clauses at all, but long-lost family members in double disguise. Still, real or not real, Rees had created a legend.

Over the next few decades, the legend took shape. Mentions of Mrs. Claus appeared in short stories, poems, and songs. She also began accompanying her husband to Christmas parties. Some reported that she dressed in red; others, like the architect/narrator in E.C. Gardner’s 1887 fanciful essay “A Hickory Back-Log,” decked her out in green and plaid while simultaneously…

The Story Behind The Department Store Santa

Edward Pearson was in his 90s when he told a newspaper reporter about the most magical day of his childhood.

“As long as I live,” he said, “and I’ve lived quite a few years, I’ll never forget that experience.”

It was December 1890, and a young Pearson was wandering the aisles of the Boston Store, an upscale department store in Brockton, Massachusetts, when he turned a corner and saw a portly man with a white beard and a red suit.

“All of a sudden, right in front of me, I saw Santa Claus,” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe my eyes.” The man smiled and approached Pearson. Like most kids, Pearson had only seen interpretations of Santa in magazine illustrations, never in the flesh. But here, in a department store in a small town near Boston, was the man himself.

In reality, Santa was James Edgar, the owner of the Boston Store and a man who bore a resemblance to the holiday icon long before he ever asked a tailor to fashion a costume for him. For the hundreds of kids who visited his store, Edgar became something their eyes could hardly believe: the first department store Santa.

Edgar was born in Duns, Berwickshire, Scotland in 1843, arriving in the United States some 24 years later [PDF]. A big, jolly man who carried his generosity with him everywhere, Edgar opened the Boston Store—later renamed Edgar’s—in 1878 and promptly began to personify the holiday spirit.

While other area stores often had their workers staying late, Edgar closed his store four evenings a week so workers could be home with their families. If a customer wanted to put an item on layaway, he gave them four percent monthly interest on whatever amount they had deposited. If a child in the area was in need of medical attention and had no money, Edgar would make sure they got the help they needed. While he did it anonymously, it wasn’t hard to figure…