Brief Psychological Interpretation of Santa’s Image – as depicted by Thomas Nast


Merry Old Santa Claus, by Thomas Nast. Woodcut published on 1by Harper’s Weekly.

The picture above portrays Santa Claus as imagined by Thomas Nast in  Harper’s Weekly, January 1, 1881, p.8-9. Given the fact that this is the drawing that generated the current image of Santa Claus, I propose a brief psychological interpretation of it, just so that we will have an alternate perspective about “Santa the man”, rather than “Santa, the character”.

Given the fact that the present blog post is meant “for fun”, we will ignore the fact that the drawing can be seen in fact as a conglomerate of projections of Nast and that the features of Santa may refer actually to the artist.

So let’s get our interpretation wheel spinning…

  •  The attitude of Santa is ahm…well…jolly… but him being portrayed as an active figure may also mean that he is an active person, productive and he has a feeling of independence.
  • Is Santa feeling insecure? As we can see, he is smoking from a pipe and that may point to an oral dependency, basically meaning that he may want to return to a stage in which he felt more secure and safe. Also, this may translate into the present as a sign of some sort of dependency, so let’s just hope Santa knows his punch intake limits.
  • His “little round belly” – as Clement Clarke Moore described St. Nicholas – might be a clue regarding the fact that Santa is a bit greedy and perhaps a bit concerned about his physical health.
  • Santa seems to like control. His belt says so. The presence of the belt in the drawing is a symbol of delimitation between the cognitive/intellectual aspects (the upper part of the body) and impulses/sexual impulses (the lower half of the body). It is also a symbol of authority, so no wonder we all try to be our best selves all year round… he means business.
  • Santa may have had an overprotective mother. An imposing figure is a sign of possible dependency on the mother. Also, men with such a pattern tend to feel helpless and weak because they have this dependency on powerful women. …this may explain Mrs. Claus… and her role in writing in the “Large book”.
  • A bit of OCD, Santa? Great attention to details and also…a bit of clutter in the workshop – from where we believe he got the toys we see in the drawing… and the lists, my God, the huuuuge lists… These may be signs of obsessive-compulsive functionality. His compulsions seem to be related to the fact that he feels compelled to make sure every child gets presents if they were good and he goes over the top in order to fulfill this dramatic ritual year after year after year… I say: OCD. (And don’t even get me started with the analysis of his cognitive distortions… what is all that about children being either good or bad? Quite a dichotomy you got going on there, Santa… huh?)
  • Santa is definitely a child at heart… look at all those toys.
  • The big hands denote the fact that Santa wants power…and also… he is doing some refined adaptations in social contexts, because of feelings of inadequacy and impulsivity. Maybe that is why we don’t bump into him at the local store or at the movies… he doesn’t seem to necessarily like social contexts.
  • The beard and mustache denote the exertions regarding mature sexuality and virility. The hat can mean the tendency to hide masculine sexuality.
  • A last interpretation regards the mistletoe plant that we can see above Santa’s head. Well, aside from the fact that this may be his way of asking for kisses from Mrs. Claus, it also shows that his view of nature is a pantheistic one. In Santa’s eyes, Nature is Divinity.

And I believe this concludes my brief interpretation of Santa Claus’ image and behaviors.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and hope that you’ve all been good, cause, as history has shown us, Santa’s OCD will be kicking in soon, so be ready to receive your presents!

P.S. 1. I hope the present blog post won’t get me erased from Santa’s list… *Yikes!*.

P.S. 2. As you can see here, there is a “slight” resemblance between Thomas Nast and Santa, but hey, nothing’s been “scientifically” proven so we will hold our horses on this one.

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