The Civil War was one of the darkest times in American history, but at least one bright spot came out of it: Santa Claus. Well, to be more precise, the idea of Santa Claus had been around for a long time, but it wasn't until political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew a jolly-looking fellow for Harper's Weekly that anyone "saw" Santa as we know him today.
It wasn't entirely for celebratory reasons, however. Nast created his version of the Christmas icon as a way to support the Union cause in the Civil War. His first drawing showed Santa handing presents to Union troops, while holding a puppet resembling Confederate leader Jefferson Davis with a rope around his neck. His other drawing was more traditional, with Santa coming down a chimney.
"In these two drawings, Christmas became a Union holiday and Santa a Union local deity," Adam Gopnik said in The New Yorker. "It gave Christmas to the North — gave to the Union cause an aura of domestic sentiment, and even sentimentality." Nast reportedly based Santa – with his beard and his big belly – on himself.
- Santa's red and white outfit came about when Coca-Cola created it for commercials in the 1930s.
- Washington Irving, author of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," was the first to write about Santa entering houses through the chimney.
- In the United States, letters addressed to Santa go to the post office in Santa Claus, Indiana; those with a return address receive a reply.