Have you ever seen Santa Claus? No, not The Santa Clause with Tim Allen; I’m talking about the first Christmas movie ever made! The Victorian-era Santa Claus hails from 1898, and to our surprise, it still feels (vaguely) modern thanks to its use of special effects and a familiar Christmas narrative.
Update, 12/19/22: Checked content for accuracy, film availablity, and dead links.
Directed by George Albert Smith, the 1898 Santa Claus is just under two minutes long and (as you’d expect) totally silent. It opens with two restless kids who are sent off to bed on Christmas Eve. When their mother (or nanny) turns the lights out, a quick editing trick replaces the nursery’s walls with a big black tarp.
Then, an image of Saint slipping down the chimney is superimposed over the nursery—it’s a basic film trick, but it probably looked like witchcraft in 1898. Anyway, Santa brings an entire tree down the chimney, sets some gifts near the kids, and vanishes in thin air.
It’s funny to see how little Santa has changed over the last century, although I don’t think he lugs around a big tree anymore. He also wears a red suit now! (That’s a joke.)
If we ever build a time machine, we should go back and watch how audiences reacted to Santa Claus over a century ago. We should also show them some modern Christmas classics. That would really shake them up!