Creepy 19th-Century Photos Show What Santa Claus Used To Look Like


These remarkable 19th-century photos reveal that Santa Claus was not always the portly, jolly, red-cheeked figure known today.

A hunchbacked, skinny, and sometimes terrifying man, the fascinating images show what Father Christmas looked like in the 19th century — before he became the cuddly, bearded man marketed to modern-day consumers.

An image of Santa Claus with a bent back, from 1897.

The black-and-white photographs, that date as far back as the 1880s, show Santa as a scary, scrawny, and episcopal-robed man with no reindeer-powered sleigh in sight.

Instead, Saint Nick has developed a hunchback from dragging around presents.

A very creepy looking Santa Claus, date unknown.
Image of Santa Claus, circa 1890s.

Other 19th-century representations of Santa are far more terrifying. Some 1880s images depict a grotesque old man with a large mask – whilst some 1890s pictures represent Father Christmas as a spooky, ghostly apparition.

Meanwhile, some early 20th-century European images show Saint Nick accompanied by a gruesome creature known as Krampus — a devil-like character who beats badly-behaved children and drags them back to Hell.

A ghostly Santa Claus stands over a little girl in an American image called ‘A Dream of Christmas,’ 1897.
Circa 1880s.
Circa 1880s.

It was only in the 1920s that the modern vision of Santa as a plump and jolly man was created and this was mainly down to Coca-Cola’s holiday advertising.

Coca-Cola wanted to move away from the traditional thin, intellectual, strict-looking Santa of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

An image of a Krampus, who according to folklore, would visit children during the Christmas period and punish those who had misbehaved. He’s pictured here taking away children, circa 1902.
An image of a Krampus, pictured here stealing babies on his broomstick, circa 1900.

For its festive commercial, the brand wanted to project a more lovable, fat Santa with a taste for cookies, milk, and of course Coca-Cola bottles.

Afterward, many other brands and television shows in the twentieth century continued fuelling this modern depiction of Santa.

An early 20th century photograph shows St. Nicholas and his Krampus friends.
An early image of Santa Claus as he crawls up the chimney in this image taken in the early 1900s.
A French image of Santa Claus dating to 1910.

Father Christmas dates back as far as the 16th century in England. However, it was during the Victorian period that Christmas customs enjoyed a significant revival including the figure of Santa.

Father Christmas’s physical appearance in the 19th-century was changeable. While the signature white beard was always present, Santa was variously portrayed as hunch-backed, svelte, haggard, and even frightening.

An image of Santa Claus pictured in Boston, Massachusetts, 1880.
Santa Claus is seen phoning for supplies in this American image from 1897.
This Santa Claus, photographed in the late 19th century, shows him bringing toys as children sleep, but he appears to be covered in paint.

Loosely based on the patron saint of children, St Nicholas, Santa Claus was also represented as a strict, pious figure clothed in bishops’ red and white robes. This was later replaced by a fur-trimmed suit in the early 1900s.

Image credits: All photos courtesy of News Dog Media.