Who Gave Santa Claus Obesity?

Who gave Santa Claus obesity? This is one question about obesity that has a simple answer. Clement Clark Moore did it when he wrote A Visit from St. Nicholas, now well known as The Night Before Christmas.

No one has really seen St. Nicholas or Santa Claus since the fourth century when he lived in the city of Myra on the Mediterranean coast that is now part of Turkey. By all accounts, he was a rather thin fellow, having given up wealth in favor of helping children and other people in need.

Sante Claus, The Children's Friend

So now all we have to tell us about Santa’s shape is the work of writers and illustrators. They created the image of an American Santa Claus with obesity, beginning in the early 19th century. William B. Gilley published The Children’s Friend in 1821, marking the first appearance of “Sante Claus” in America. In this book he looked rather trim.

But it was only two years later that Moore gave Santa Claus obesity, describing him as having “a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly,” and calling him “chubby and plump.”

After that, the die was cast. Popular artists like Thomas Nast, Norman Rockwell, J.C. Leyendecker, and Haddon Sundblom latched onto the fat and jolly image. It made sense at the time. St. Nicholas was reimagined as a symbol of abundance — Santa Claus — at a time when most folk were concerned about getting enough to eat. Obesity was a nice problem to have, reserved for the wealthy.

Merry Christmas!

Click here to read more at the St. Nicholas Center.

St. Nicholas of Myra, orthodox icon

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.