Today’s post comes from Paige Weaver in the National Archives History Office.
It’s the holiday season, and you are likely to see jolly old fat men with big fluffy white beards dressed in red suits. This iconic image of Santa Claus, a man who flies around the world in his sleigh pulled by magic reindeer to deliver presents to children, is defined by his snowy white facial hair.
The man as we know and love is the hybrid result of the evolutionary mixing of several other figures, namely Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, and the “Jolly Old Elf” from Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (“The Night Before Christmas.”)
The man with the famous facial fluff did not fully materialize until the 1880s, when Thomas Nast drew a cartoon for Harper’s Weekly that depicted Santa as a big man with a lavish beard and a sack full of presents.
Although Santa Claus is known for bringing gifts to all good children, he also helps create the magic of the holiday season, something that can be appreciated by everyone. Bringing joy and delight wherever he goes, even Presidents and First Ladies welcome Santa to help spread holiday cheer.
Although he probably didn’t fly in a sleigh led by reindeer, former President Harry S. Truman visited Santa Claus at his apartment in New York City on December 25, 1958. Santa, aka Judge Samuel I. Rosenman, Truman’s special counsel while President, seems to be pondering whether or not his eyebrows need trimming. Truman, on the other hand, appears jolly and happy to be celebrating with a friend who took the business of playing Santa Claus so seriously.
Here Santa Claus waves to the camera as he poses with President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, at a 1975 Christmas Eve party in Vail, Colorado. It seems as though the President may have been trying to intimate Santa’s suit with his own fashionable white turtleneck and red jacket, but he certainly couldn’t match that long, frizzy white beard.
The National Christmas Tree lighting is a Washington, DC, holiday tradition that goes back to Christmas Eve, 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge pushed a button to light a tree that the District of Columbia’s Public Schools had erected on the Ellipse. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter had a helper to light the tree— his daughter, Amy. The pair is greeted by some very special visitors—Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Who said that Santa’s lap is reserved for children? First Lady Nancy Reagan certainly wasn’t afraid to climb onto his lap and tell Santa what she wanted for Christmas, although in her defense, it was President Ronald Reagan behind that fuzzy white beard. Always the jokester, Reagan probably loved dressing up as Jolly Old Saint Nick, although his beard seems to be in danger of falling off his face and exposing his true identity.
First Lady Laura Bush holds the beloved family dog, Barney, as she watches the first viewing of the 2004 “Barney Cam” video with Santa Claus and a room full of kids at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. The short film featured Barney running around the White House during the holiday season looking for the puppy Miss Beazley. The video brought great joy to the children, with the only question being whose beard was more popular that day: Santa’s natural white locks or Barney’s scruffy black snout.
In 2011 First Lady Michelle Obama also visited Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. She read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” during a Christmas holiday program with children, parents, and staff. The First Lady shared the stage with 19-year-old patient Ashley Riemer; Bo, the Obama family dog; and good ol’ Santa Claus.