A few years ago, I unearthed this gem–a collection of vintage footage of early films featuring Santa Claus. It’s completely fascinating to me because it’s so easy to think of Santa in the post-1940 context. If you think about the holiday classics that populate the television this time of year, almost all of them were made after 1947 when Miracle on 34th Street was released. But there were movies and animated shorts during the half century before that, and lots of them featured Santa. Here are some clips of pre-1940 Santa Claus in film and animated shorts.
Santa Claus (1898)
Here’s a very, very short film about Santa from 1898, made by George Albert Smith. The jolly old elf has put on some pounds since then:
The Night Before Christmas (1905)
This Edwin S. Porter short is the film version of Clement Moore’s legendary tale:
The Adventures of the Wrong Santa Claus (1914)
I’m lying a bit by including this. After all, this isn’t REALLY Santa. It’s some kid’s dad posing as Santa, whereas most of the others on this list feature the real Santa. You know, because he’s real. And he also was captured on film in all of these. All the same, this is a very old film version of what people visualized as Santa Claus back before World War I.
Santa Claus (1925)
Embedding is disabled here but this is one of my favorites from the list. It’s a story about two children who sneak out of bed to ask Santa just what the hell he’s up to the other 364 days of the year. The film is his answer. This link has several clips from the film.
Making Christmas Crackers (1910)
Do you know why you’ve never heard of this one? Because it’s a documentary short about making crackers. HUZZAH! Fortunately, Santa saves the day by appearing at the very end, thus proving that Santa is more magical than cracker production.
Snow White (1916)
I really have no clue what Santa Claus is doing in a movie about Snow White, but it really happened. This is the version that inspired Disney to create their own Snow White a few decades later, wisely excluding Kris Kringle. Here’s the Santa clip:
The Insect’s Christmas (1913)
As it turns out, Rankin/Bass wasn’t the first to make Christmas movies using stop-motion animation. This clip from Russia is about a Father Christmas ornament that comes to life.
Santa’s Workshop (1932)
Disney released this animated short about Santa and his helpers busily preparing for Christmas.
Alias Santa Claus (1935)
Here’s an animated short about a cat who poses as Santa Claus in the interest of eating a family of mice waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve. None of them are Tom or Jerry.
Christmas Comes But Once a Year (1936)
I strangely had the good fortune of seeing this on the big screen recently as part of a package of vintage holiday shorts before Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964). The gist of it is that a bunch of orphans get a lot of busted Christmas gifts, so “Professor Grampy” uses his infinite technological wisdom to turn everyday items in his home into toys. He then dresses as Santa, and delivers the toys to the orphanage.