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Cover Collection: The Best Santas Ever

Published: December 4, 2017

Over the decades, The Saturday Evening Post has featured iconic images of Santa Claus on their December covers. Here are a few of our favorites by famed illustrators Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker.

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“Santa’s Lap”
J. C. Leyendecker
December 22, 1923

Artist Alexander Anderson created the first known American image of Santa for the New York Historical Society’s St. Nicholas anniversary dinner in 1804. Sixty years later, American cartoonist Thomas Nast created the first published newspaper rendition of the rounded fellow with a jolly belly. He called him Santa Claus and endowed him with a gentle and compassionate spirit — and a giant sack of toys.

At the outset of the 20th century, the American public wholeheartedly embraced this persona for Santa — a sensibility that did not go unnoticed by the editor of The Saturday Evening Post, George Horace Lorimer. Over the decades of his reign at the Post, he frequently turned to his favorite artists to illustrate Santa on the covers of the magazine

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Santa with Elves
Normal Rockwell
December 2, 1922

In January of 1922, editor Lorimer, feeling the weight of the season, commissioned Rockwell to paint a worn-out Santa for the coming December cover. The elves were Rockwell’s first attempt at cartoonish figures for a Post cover. If you look closely, you’ll see they are miniatures of his Santa of his Santa model, John Malone. It was no trick to capture Malone in this pose, as he frequently dozed off in Rockwell’s studio.

Cover

“Hug from Santa”
J. C. Leyendecker
December 26, 1925

No matter how heavy the pack or how pressed for time, good St. Nick will always pause for a hug. And what a heavy load it is! You can almost feel the enormous strain weighing down on Santa’s collapsing boots.

Cover

“Santa Up a Ladder”
J. C. Leyendecker
December 20, 1930

Not everyone in this household welcomes Santa’s Christmas Eve visit. Can this befuddled Santa coax Fido into returning his coattail? Insiders understood this scene as a veiled reference to Leyendecker’s disciple Rockwell, whom art critics frequently described as riding his mentor’s coattails.

Cover

“Christmas, 1927” 
Norman Rockwell
December 3, 1927

Lorimer had a rule that cover paintings should convey the illustrator’s intended message in no more than three seconds. Certainly that’s true in this timeless painting conveying the message, as Rockwell once said, that “…children want to believe in Santa Claus just a fervently as we adults want to believe in peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.”

Cover

“Giving Santa His Seat”
Richard Sargent
December 10, 1955

Sargent had nearly 40 Post covers under his belt before he painted this heartwarming Christmas cover of a little boy (Sargent’s neighbor Richie McCullough) who is eager to take advantage of an opportunity to do a good deed — especially with Christmas only a few days away.

Santa's in the News by Norman Rockwell

Santa’s in the News
Norman Rockwell
December 26, 1942

Christmas spirit triumphs in the darkest hour. In August of 1942, when Rockwell finished and sent this over to the Post, the war with Japan and Germany was going badly for the U.S. Millions viewed this cover as a much-needed positive message to Americans and the troops.

 

These illustrations and many others are featured in the Post’s Special Collector’s Edition, Norman Rockwell: Christmas in America. This edition can be ordered here.

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  • Jean Royal

    I was born on December 3, 1927 – what a surprise to see the cover for that day. I never realized that he went back that far – 90 years…I didn’t imagine I would be here either. Thanks for printing this.

  • Nicholas A DeStefano

    I have not received the November/December magazine issue for some reason? My account # is 07146994. Please advise and send me the missing issue. Thank you.

  • In both ‘Santa’s Lap’ and ‘Hug from Santa’, Leyendecker really gives the feeling of true love for the child in both covers, and the boy feels Santa’s there just for him. Santa’s eyes also say it’s true, even if the rest of the covers says otherwise.

    Norman Rockwell’s ‘Christmas 1927’ (to me) almost suggests the boy is really in God’s left hand, at least for that magical moment. ‘Santa’s in the News’ shows Santa breaking through all of the bad World War II headlines to say “Merry Christmas” (despite everything) in SUCH incredible red handwriting.

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