EE Burke….The Evolution of a Saint In America: St. Nicholas to Santa Claus

I’m so grateful to Elisabeth for filling in for me (Linda Broday) today. I’m out of town so this works out great. I hope you enjoy her fabulous blog about the evolution of Santa. I find it so interesting and I think you will too. Also, get ready for SANTA’S MAIL-ORDER BRIDE that releases on Dec. 23rd. It will be available in print and ebook!! I’m so excited.

How well do you know Santa? I had to do some research about the evolution of Santa Claus in America for a brand new book–SANTA’S MAIL-ORDER BRIDE. Here’s a collage I put together of the progression.











Some of these images were familiar to me, such as the real St. Nicholas, who truly embodies what being a disciple of Christ is all about. The Dutch brought “Sinterklaas” to colonial America. In the early 1800s, Santa devised his naughty list and hitched up the flying reindeer. And in the mid-to-late 1800s, Thomas Nast’s illustrations made the “jolly old elf” a household icon. Nast did more than 30 drawings for Harper’s Weekly, a number of those during the Civil War.

Santa’s Mail-Order Bride incorporates America’s Christmas traditions and the beloved character of Santa Claus. Just how much do you know about Santa?


Take this test:

Santa Claus was real person. (T or F)

The English brought Santa to America. (T or F)

A poem and an artist turned a saint into a legend. (T or F)


Santa Clause was a real person. True. Sort of… He started out as a saint. Nicholas, born in the 3rd century in a village in present-day Turkey, is said to have spent his inheritance to help the needy. He is credited with numerous miracles (including bringing dead people back to life) and had a special love for children. It’s from his generous nature we get a gift-giving Santa.


bishop st. nicholas


The English brought Santa to America. (T or F)

False. Actually, it was the Dutch who gave Santa a ride across the ocean. Fast forward to 18th century America where immigrants from Holland brought with them the tradition of Sinterklaas, which eventually became “Santa Claus.”  Woodcuts distributed in 1804 show images of an old man in a long robe and long white beard filling colonial stockings with fruit and toys. There are also images showing Santa as a something of a trickster in a tri-corn hat.


colonial dutch santa


A poem and an artist turned a saint into a legend. (T or F)

True. In 1823, an anonymous poem (later acknowledged to have been penned by Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister), gave us a mythical, mischievous Santa. Entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” or “The Night Before Christmas.” Moore’s poem is largely responsible for the image of Santa Claus as a “right jolly old elf” with a portly figure and the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney with a mere nod of his head. This is also where we pick up flying reindeer and Santa’s sleigh.

1821 santa



We have American artist Thomas Nast to thank for developing the more familiar images of Santa Claus we cherish from Victorian times. From 1863 through 1886, Nast contributed 33 Christmas drawings to Harper’s Weekly with references to Santa. Here is the most familiar Santa “portrait” he did in 1881. It is Nast who gave Santa his familiar suit, his North Pole workshop, elves, and even his wife, Mrs. Claus.

Nast 1881 santa portrait

Department store Santa’s popped up at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. By the 1930s, Santa had even ventured into marketing, appearing on Coca-Cola ads.


coke santa


Yes, Santa has certainly evolved over time. But at the heart of the legend and character we find love and generosity and a special kind of magic that makes the world a better place.


norman santa


Did you know Santa was a Union man? And who doesn’t recognize the sack-toting Santa from the turn of the century? Being fully Americanized by the 1930s, Santa finally made his way into marketing…for Coca-Cola. Which of these images are familiar to you? Which one do you think best represents Santa? Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Santa’s Mail-Order Bride.


SantasMailOrderBrideSanta’s Mail-Order Bride by E.E. Burke

 Maggie has an unexpected suitor—in a red suit

Schoolteacher Maggie O’Brien comes home for Christmas on a mission: to gather toys for orphans living on poor farms around Fort Scott. She’s made her list, but there’s no Santa in sight. Not until a local shopkeeper volunteers his services.

Gordon Sumner sets his mind on winning the black-haired Irish beauty, but Maggie’s brother is his fiercest competitor, and O’Brien’s loyal sister gives him the cold shoulder. Undaunted, he comes up with a clever plan.

Maggie sees through the fake Santa’s ploy, but with Christmas just around the corner, she’s running out of time to make the holiday happy for needy children. She accepts his help—with a plan of her own. She’ll play matchmaker and find her persistent suitor the perfect bride.



“We’ll get your orphans gifts, Miss O’Brien. I promise you.”

Her dazed expression remained, as her cheeks bloomed with color and her hands floated up to her mouth. At least she didn’t slap him.

His heart pumped liquid fire through his veins, the brief touch only whetting his appetite for more. He vowed to get a longer, deeper kiss before Miss O’Brien waltzed out of his life again, and he knew just how he would engineer it.

“You…you…” she sputtered.

“Kissed you? Yes. That’s what a man does with his wife.”

She scurried backwards, the high color draining from her face. “What are you talking about? I’m not your wife.”

“Not mine, Santa’s. You, my dear, will be Mrs. Claus.”


Available on Amazon:

Find other books by E.E. Burke


EE Burke headshotAbout E.E. Burke:

Weave together rich historical detail, passionate romance, add a dash of suspense and you have books by E.E. Burke. Her chosen settings are the American West and her upcoming release, Victoria, Bride of Kansas, is part of the unprecedented 50-book American Mail-Order Brides series. Santa’s Mail-Order Bride is the delightful sequel.

E.E.’s writing has earned accolades in regional and national contests, including the prestigious Golden Heart®. Over the years, she’s been a disc jockey, a journalist and an advertising executive, before finally getting around to living the dream…writing stories readers can get lost in.


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44 thoughts on “EE Burke….The Evolution of a Saint In America: St. Nicholas to Santa Claus”

  1. I suppose the Coca-Cola Santa would be the most familiar. Did you know that Coca-Cola Santa was designed by the son of Finnish emigrants?

  2. I am familiar with the last three pictures. The one I think best depicts Santa is the one on the Saturday Evening Post because it shows him making (painting) toys to fill his sack. But, my favorite is the Coca-Cola Santa.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

    • I love that Norman Rockwell Santa because it really captures Santa’s personality. And the one from Nast is just a wonderful image. Thanks for coming by, Cindy, and for commenting. Hope you’ll check out Santa’s Mail-Order Bride.

  3. Maybe it’s because of the time period, but my favorite is the one by Thomas Nast.

    P.S. Enjoyed the teaser.

    • Yes, the Nast image is probably my favorite, too. All his images of Santa are so cool I had a hard time picking just one. I’m glad you liked the teaser. Gordon Sumner makes a great Santa, and you’ll see why if you read Santa’s Mail-Order Bride. Thanks for stopping by, Alisa!

  4. The Coca Cola Santa is what I remember. We never talked about or believed in Santa when we were kids, so I don’t remember much more than that.

    • I think the Coca-Cola image is probably the most recognized in the world. I had several friends when I was younger who either didn’t celebrate Christmas or didn’t have a tradition of Santa Claus. The most important thing, I think, is the emphasis on generosity and compassion, the reason for Christmas in the first place. Thanks so much for stopping by Susan!

  5. I really enjoyed this post, Elisabeth. Just last month, I was in Holland and heard all about Sinterklaas. Though he’s evolved in the Netherlands, too. Now he rides a big white horse and has a trickster helper called Pete. I didn’t realize, though, that the Dutch immigrants played such a big role in bringing Santa to America. Thanks for sharing!

    • Karen, oh my gosh, I’m laughing so hard… I love the image of Santa on a white horse with a sidekick called Pete! I might just have to write that into a story! Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. Thank you Linda, for allowing me to “steal” the limelight for a day to talk about Santa and my new release, Santa’s Mail-Order Bride. I had such a great time writing this book. The characters were so much fun, and the research was a blast. I think you can tell that in the way it’s written. Good luck on your new release this month. I’ve got Forever His Texas Bride on the bedside table, ready to read, as soon as I find a night I don’t need sleep! Maybe Christmas Eve. 😉

  7. I have learned a bit about this in some Holiday facts before… what a transformation Santa has had over the years! Thanks for sharing and Happy Holidays!

  8. Oh, I want to read this book. I look forward to it.
    Loved learning about Santa too. A few things I already knew. I was most surprised about the trickster Santa picture. I admit I didn’t care for that one. The other pictures were just lovely.

    • The trickster image was pretty funny, although not how I picture Santa. Notice his foot is on fire! Makes sense, coming down a chimney. I hope you’ll check out Santa’s Mail-Order Bride, as well as the one preceding it, Victoria, Bride of Kansas. Both set during Christmas season.

  9. Enjoyed reading abouy Santa. Coca Cola Santa is the most recognized. Being from Texas, I prefer a western Santa.

  10. I had to do a research paper on Santa a few years ago. Quite interesting. I personally like the Coca Cola pictures. That’s what I see Santa as now.

  11. Welcome to Wildflower Junction, Elisabeth, and congratulations on Santa Mail-order Bride. MoB stories are my favorite, and throw in Christmas…I promise to cuddle up with this one. I absolutely love this informative blog! I always think the very old-fashioned Saint Nicholas depictions are the most true to history, but I do love Coca Cola and Norman Rockwell! Visited The Rockwell museum gallery in Stockbridge MA not long ago. Hubs and I are true fans. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  12. I actually remember both the 1922 image and the Coca-Cola image. I think one of my grandparents had the Saturday Evening Post article which is why I remember him. The Coca-Cola one was around for years and I do miss it. Congrats on the release of the Santa Mail-Order Bride and I’m definitely looking forward to reading it. Thanks for this chance!! Hope you and yours have a safe but Merry Christmas!

    • Nancy, thanks for stopping by. My mom says she remembers her parents had that Rockwell picture of Santa. I recall seeing it hanging in a frame somewhere. Very popular image of Santa.
      This book is actually a sequel to Victoria, Bride of Kansas. Hope you’ll check them out.
      Enjoy your Christmas!

  13. What a delightful and lovely feature and post. The images are so familiar since I grew up during that era and it is nostalgic.

  14. Hi Elisabeth! What a wonderful post! I love all these pictures of the “evolving” Santa Claus, but I think my favorites are the Norman Rockwell version and the Coke ads. Thanks for this look backward at “jolly old St. Nicholas”.

    I enjoyed your excerpt, too. This is one book I must read–how could I resist Santa and a mail-order bride story all rolled into one? LOL It’s great to have you here with us today!

  15. Loved todays blog post, fits the time of year we’re in. Very interesting. My first choice would be Thomas Nast followed by Norman Rockwell and lastly the more popular of today the Coca Cola version.
    Santa’s Mail-Order Bride sounds a like a book I would truly enjoy.

    • I simply love the Nast images of Santa. Didn’t have room to share all the ones I’ve been collecting. He did more than any one person, I think, to secure Santa a place in American culture. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. Believe it or not, I’m most familiar with the first image and the last 3. I had friends in high school who’s dad worked for Coke so every year at Christmas they’d give Coke Santa presents. 🙂

    Merry Christmas!!

  17. Thank you all for such a warm welcome today! I really enjoyed sharing my Santa blog.
    I have two books coming out Dec. 22 and 23, which are related stories.

    VICTORIA, BRIDE OF KANSAS is part of the American Mail-Order Bride series. You’ll meet Maggie for the first time in this book when she sets up her brother with an unwanted bride. When Victoria arrives to meet her romantic suitor, she finds instead a man disinterested in marriage and with less Christmas spirit than Scrooge. It takes a troubled child to bring these two wounded souls together.

    SANTA’S MAIL-ORDER BRIDE follows Maggie’s romance with her brother’s clever competitor.

    Both are novella-length Christmas stories. Hope you’ll check them out!

  18. The Nast, Coca-Cola and Rockwell Santas are the most familiar, although I find the Nast Santa a little creepy. Not a fan of Rockwell so the one I like best is Coca-Cola Santa. Funny how the legend has evolved to what we have today.

    Enjoyed the excerpt. Thanks for the giveaway.

  19. Thank you for such an interesting post. I love mail-order bride stories–just think of the courage it took give up everything and throw yourself into the unknown. I don’t know how anyone could do that except for those who had nothing to begin with.

  20. The evolution of Santa is interesting. I use Clement Clarke Moore’s Twas The Night Before Christmas in the form of a coloring book as a repeated reading activity to build reading fluency. I forget who the illustrator is, but the kids love it. I’m looking forward to reading Santa’s Mail Order Bride!

  21. I love all of them. I knew that Nast created the image we have of him today and that some appeared during the Civil War. I also love all of Rockwell’s paintings. We always read Twas the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve along with the Luke version of Christ’s birth. You did a great job researching this as you always do your story subjects. It sounds like a great story.

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