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Today's Vision of Santa Clause Was Born in Claymont Delaware

While Saint Nicholas was born in Turkey 350 a.d., the Santa Clause that Americans know today was "born" in America as Washington Irving's Dutch Santa and was first drawn by F.O.C. Darley in his studio in Claymont, Delaware in 1862 for the first book of Clement C. Moore's "A Visit from Saint Nicholas."

Washington Irving, writing Dietrich Knickerbocker's HISTORY OF NEW YORK in 1809 first gave a written description of the new "American" Dutch Saint Nicholas. Santa was a plump and jolly old Dutchman in Irving's Dietrich Knickerbocker's HISTORY OF NEW YORK. When Clement C. Moore wrote "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" exclusively for his children in 1822, he embellished Irving's Santa, giving him more color, with a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer.

No 'vision' was given to the new "American" Santa, however, until 1862, when Felix Darley was chosen by publisher James G. Gregory, to illustrate the first "Visit" book. Darley was at the apex of his career at the time, having given Americans their vision of the Revolutionary War, Indians, the movement West, and the Civil War. So famous was Darley at the time, it was his name that appeared on the cover, not Moore's, when the book was published.

Darley had moved to Claymont, Delaware in 1859 where he continued his fast pace of work. He often used family members, neighbors, pets, and countryside as "models" for his work. When he did the illustrations for Moore's "Visit," he used his Claymont home as a model for one of the outdoor scenes where Santa is approaching with the sleigh and reindeer. Quite visible are the gimbaled roof, verandah, and bargebords of the Darley home. The home and studio still sit in Claymont at the corner of Darley Road and Philadelphia Pike.

Soon after Gregory's edition of "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," many more came on the scene; perhaps the most notable next one included illustrations by Thomas Nast in 1863; Nast continued the "Americanization" of Santa with more color and plumpness.

Click to see a couple of the scenes (From a 2001 Christmas card designed for a few Darley "Friends.")