Fat and Jolly Santa?…Why Thank You Thomas Nast

I’m going to venture a guess that most Americans would describe Santa in the exact same way. Fat. Jolly. Red-cheeked. But I also feel pretty confident that most people have no idea where that image came from. Or, how about the political donkey and elephant cartoons associated with our political parties? Probably not sure there either.

Well, during this time of holiday joy and political excitement surrounding the most recent elections, I’m toasting my hot toddy to Thomas Nast, cartoon image creator of our modern-day Santa, beloved political donkey and elephant, and Uncle Sam.

Nast first drew our chubby, jolly friend Santa Claus for the 1862 Christmas season Harper’s Weekly cover. I reiterate my thanks because before Nast’s cartoon, Santa was depicted as a tall, thin, seriously creepy looking dude. Now, to be fair, Nast didn’t invent the idea of a jolly St. Nick with a round belly that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly. We can attribute that to Clement Moore’s infamous 1823 poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Just like we couldn’t imagine the holidays without the image of a fat, jolly man named Santa, what would an election season be without the donkey and elephant? We would have missed such tremendous opportunities as seeing the Democrats debut, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Mordecai, a live donkey, giving new meaning to the term “political animal.” Nast’s first cartoon images are cemented in history as chubby old white men and satirical donkeys and elephants. So, the next time you see happy Santa, thank our dear German-friend Thomas Nast. 

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