Early Christmas Books for Children

One of the most interesting collections of books in the de Grummond Collection are the early Christmas books for children. Clement Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas has become a well-known holiday classic.Moore wrote the poem in 1822 for his family and had no intention of having the poem published. While the book was first published in 1848 and illustrated by T. C. Boyd, the 1863 edition illustrated by Thomas Nast established the “look” for Santa. While there were several iterations and impressions of St. Nicholas, Nast’s additions to Moore’s beloved tale created much of the myth of the jolly old fellow. Nast added the red suit, the roundness to Santa’s girth, and the elves.  There is some speculation that Nast is the one responsible for the idea of Santa as toymaker.

Front cover of Visit of St. Nicholas featuring a title with red writing on a yellow and green background. Illustration of Santa Claus with a long white beard and holding a pipe is in the center of the cover.

Santa Claus with a full pack on his back climbing into a chimney on the roof of a house. His sleigh is parked on the roof beside the chimney.

There are several digitized Christmas books in the de Grummond Digital Collections, in which the entirety of the books are available to the public.  Click here, to view a list of early Christmas books that are fully digitized and ready to read. Take note of how different artists have tried to bring an original look to Santa different from the Nast depiction.

One particularly interesting version was illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, A Visit from Santa.Published in 1912 by Houghton Mifflin, Santa is not dressed in red. The book itself is red, but the image of Santa Claus is centered in a circle on the cover, dressed in a green-brown color with two children in his arms. 

Jessie Wilcox Smith was an illustrator during the Golden Age of illustration. Smith’s illustrations were very familiar to the American audience in 1912. She designed the cover for Good Housekeeping for 15 consecutive years, earning $3,000.00 per cover.  Her idealized images of American children appealed to the American audience. Her illustrations were ubiquitous, appearing in editions of A Child’s Garden of Verses, Little Women, and Heidi.

The endpapers of Smith’s “Santa” book show children of all shapes and sizes with empty stockings in their hands.

Front cover of Twas the Night Before Christmas, a red book with a dark green title. There is an image of Santa Claus sitting with two children on his lap in a round space in the middle of the book cover.

The title page has no Santa, but there are two Jessie Wilcox Smith idyllic images of a boy and a girl playing with toys.

Double page spread featuring a line of children dressed in nightclothes and holding empty stockings

To view the original books and many other Christmas books for children, visit the 3rd floor of McCain Library and Archives, or contact Ellen Ruffin at or 601.266.6543.

Text by Ellen Ruffin, Curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection.