Is that Santa in a 1568 Map? The Newberry Library in Chicago has the answer. The blog post, “A 1598 Map with Seals, Sea Monsters, and … Santa?”, tells the whole story about this curiosity found in a gorgeous 1598 map in their collections.

Santa in a 1568 Map? whole

William Barentsz’s 1598 map of the Arctic, one of nearly 700 maps in the Franco Novacco Collection. (Newberry.Library)

The Truth About Santa in a 1568 Map

David Weimer is the Newberry’s curator of maps and director of the Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography. He wrote this entertaining blog post. And he also solves the mystery.

Before you say it, I’ll be the grinch. This is not a mythical Santa but a Samoyed. The narrative account of Barentsz’s voyage describes their sleds with “one or two hartes [deer] in them, that runne so swiftly with one or two men in them, that our horses were not able to follow them.”

In fact, depictions of Santa with reindeer and sleigh first appeared much later, in Washington Irving’s satirical A History of New York (1809) and Clement Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (1823).

In between this Russian sleigh driver and the seals, the map leaves us without any precise information. All we can know for sure is that the sleigh is on solid ground and the seals are in the sea. The map doesn’t pretend to tell us where sea and land actually meet.

This blend of art and science is at the heart of the Franco Novacco Collection. Novacco was drawn to maps for their “extreme elegance;” and only through that artistry did he come to appreciate their “great historical and scientific importance.” This map lives up to Novacco’s billing. From the maze-like maelstrom to the spouting sea monsters, the big and small details draw us into the map. And the more we look, the more the map rewards our attention with both artistic beauty and the history of polar exploration.

Read the reset of Weimer’s entertaining post, “A 1598 Map with Seals, Sea Monsters, and … Santa?”, at the link.

And if you’re in the mood for a bit of heart-tugging, here’s a post about letters that Santa missed. In the meantime, have a lovely Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and/or Solitice celebration. See you in 2023!