The Department Store Santa – a Truly American Christmas Tradition

It all began in Boston

At the end of the 19th century, Santa Claus drawings intentionally in the sight of children through publications, including newspapers and journals. There were Santa figurines, as well as poems and stories centered around Santa. However, unless they were able to pull an all-nighter in front of the fireplace, they didn’t have much of a chance of ever actually seeing the elderly gentleman in person. But a man from Brockton, Massachusetts, named James Edgar, also known as “Colonel Jim,” put an end to all of that once and for all.

In December of 1890, Edgar introduced the first Santa Claus figure to be seen in a department shop in the United States. In the year 1890, Edgar, who was the proprietor of a dry goods shop, rode the train to Boston, where he commissioned a Santa suit to be custom-made for him. He appeared as St. Nick at his dry goods store the week before Christmas and was an immediate hit. Trains started bringing kids in from all around, including Boston, Providence, Worcester, and even New York City. 

By the year 1891, Santa Claus had already made his first appearance in a number of the country’s most prominent department shops, and by the turn of the century, the department store Santa had become an institution.

The rest of the story

Santa Claus existed…in a roundabout way. Saint Nicholas, who lived in what is now Turkey and served as the Bishop of Myra, served as the inspiration for the character of Santa Claus. It was common knowledge that St. Nicholas was a secret gift giver. 

The earliest known appearance of Santa Claus in our modern guise was in an advertisement for Coca-Cola. Even though he had been depicted in a red outfit for some time prior to that, Santa Claus’s first appearance as the jolly old man in a red and white coat was in an advertisement campaign for Coca-Cola in the year 1931. Still, we don’t advise leaving cookies and Coke out for old Santa. Stick to milk, unless you like coal in your stocking.