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How the North Pole Became Part of Christmas Lore

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The North Pole has become synonymous with Christmas traditions surrounding Santa Claus. Every year, millions of children post letters to the North Pole and Christmas festivals all over the country re-create a wintery wonderland complete with elves and reindeer. The fact that there isn’t a landmass located at the North Pole hasn’t detracted from the enduring legends that place Santa’s magical workshop in that timeless, wintery landscape. Here’s a look at how this legend developed and how the North Pole came to be Santa’s fabled home.

The Santa Claus Legend

Santa Claus as he is recognized in modern times evolved from the visions of three 19th century writers/artists. Washington Irving in his History of New York (1809) introduced the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas to the American imagination. This legendary figure then became immortalized in 1823 in Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” more popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas.” But it was illustrator Thomas Nast who gave visual form to the lore, publishing a series of sketches of Santa himself in Harper’s Weekly from the 1860s to 1880s. It is here that the Santa as he is known today emerged, with his rotund grandfatherly appearance and kind, gentle face. However, it was not until Coca-Cola released a series of advertisements in the 1930s that the red suit became iconic as well.

How the North Pole Became Associated with Santa Claus

Nast is also largely credited with establishing Santa’s official residence at the North Pole. Of course, the association of a wintery dwelling with Saint Nicholas is steeped in the traditions of those legendary figures most closely associated with the modern Santa; for instance, in some European traditions, Father Christmas was said to live in Lapland Provence in Finland. Nevertheless, Nast published four different drawings starting in 1879 showing a girl posting a letter to St. Claus in the North Pole, Santa sitting on a box inscribed “Saint Nicholas, North Pole,” a map tracing Santa’s journey from the North Pole to the U.S., and Santa in his North Pole workshop. The legend of Santa’s home at the North Pole was further solidified in a poem entitled “Santa Claus and His Works” by George P. Webster published in 1869 alongside a color collection of Nash’s illustrations. Here, Webster wrote about Santa’s home near the North Pole, in a land of ice and snow.

The North Pole has emerged as a central part of the Santa Claus legend. For children all over, the North Pole is envisioned as a wondrous place that contains all the magic of Christmas.

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