The red suit and fur-trimmed hat, the white beard, the sack of toys: these are the trappings of an icon who has been featured on New Yorker covers since the magazine’s inception, in 1925. Of the more than a hundred Christmas images we published over the decades, more than thirty feature Santa. And Mr. Claus has been busy; he is terrorizing a sleeping dad in 1931 (by Rea Irvin) and kissing Mom in 1939 (by Peter Barlow).
Father Christmas always keeps up with his time: in 2000, when Christmas and Hanukkah coincided, Art Spiegelman showed him exchanging glances with another hatted and bearded creature. The winter after September 11, 2001, in a cover by Istvan Banyai, old St. Nick set off newly installed security detectors at an airport.
But, despite the constant limelight, Santa’s job is not always glamorous. Aladjalov’s cover from 1937 captures a hurried Santa punching his time card for what will undoubtedly be a long shift. During the Second World War, William Cotton’s Kris Kringle has to deal with competition for the kids’ attention. Another Cotton cover, from 1946, shows children’s innocence lost at the sight of Santa taking a smoke break.
In one of the most memorable Christmas images, Garret Price’s shopping-mall Santas are crowded in the subway at rush hour. Rush-hour traffic is also the topic for Carter Goodrich’s old man valiantly trying to make his deliveries, in 1994. No wonder an insubordinate team of reindeer would rather play cards, as drawn by Edward Sorel in 2012!
If the hustle of the job weren’t enough stress for a working Santa, there’s the impending threat of global warming, shown in Seymour Chwast’s 2005 cover. Still, Santas of years past have proved that the holidays aren’t all chaos. George Booth’s carolling Santas from 2004 managed to find a moment of pure holiday cheer in the midst of the usual bustle. We hope you will, too.