Vintage Map Shows Santa's Journey Around the World

A time capsule in more ways than one, a 1955 map features dozens of Santas cavorting all over the world.

Santa Claus is having all kinds of fun in this map. He’s sizing up a giraffe in Africa, riding an elephant in India, shimmying down the International Date Line over the Pacific Ocean, and tightrope-walking across the Equator in the middle of the Atlantic.

The map, titled “A World of Good Wishes at Christmastime,” was produced in 1955 by General Drafting Company, a now-defunct maker of road maps. “It’s just a classic,” says Stephen Hornsby, a professor of geography at the University of Maine and author of the recent book Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps. “It’s great fun, and very imaginative.”


This 1950s Santa map is packed with fun details and dated cultural assumptions.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM, PICTURING AMERICA: THE GOLDEN AGE OF PICTORIAL MAPS, BY STEPHEN J. HORNSBY, PUBLISHED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS.

The map was made at a time when the United States was a superpower with a booming economy. Like many pictorial maps of the mid-20th century, Hornsby says, the map is brimming with American confidence, from the central placement of the U.S. on the world map to the picture of Santa roaring through the night in a big black convertible in the bottom-left corner. “I’m English and to me this just seems so American,” Hornsby says. “It reflects that secure, middle-class American world view of the 1950s.”

Everywhere he goes on the map, Santa seems to be seizing the day. He’s doing a handstand atop the Eiffel tower in Paris, preparing to jump off one of the pyramids in Egypt, peeking around the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, and harpooning a whale off the coast of Iceland. As he crawls toward an oasis in the Libyan desert, he pictures a mug of beer.


In Europe, Santa plays the bagpipes in Scotland, violin in Yugoslavia, and piano in Russia.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM, PICTURING AMERICA: THE GOLDEN AGE OF PICTORIAL MAPS, BY STEPHEN J. HORNSBY, PUBLISHED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS


Santa hunts a moose in Canada, goes fishing in Mexico, and sunbathes in Florida.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM, PICTURING AMERICA: THE GOLDEN AGE OF PICTORIAL MAPS, BY STEPHEN J. HORNSBY, PUBLISHED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS.


Santa slays an elephant and dodges a crocodile in Africa in this detail from the map.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM, PICTURING AMERICA: THE GOLDEN AGE OF PICTORIAL MAPS, BY STEPHEN J. HORNSBY, PUBLISHED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS.

Some facets of the map’s 1950s world view seem unenlightened today. There’s the massive assumption that the entire world celebrates Christmas and cherishes Santa, for example. And the map’s depictions of people in other parts of the world tend to rely on stereotypes, from half-naked natives in Africa to an Australian aborigine with a bone in his hair. “Many of these maps are not politically correct because PC didn’t exist at the time,” Hornsby says. To the extent that American culture of the era was racist and sexist, the maps are too, he says. “They are a reflection of the country and the culture for good and ill.”

If you find this map interesting, check out our posts on pictorial maps and maps used in advertising.

Follow All Over the Map on Twitter and Instagram.

Lead Image: Santa flees a dragon and rides a rickshaw in this detail of Asia from the map. REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM, PICTURING AMERICA: THE GOLDEN AGE OF PICTORIAL MAPS, BY STEPHEN J. HORNSBY, PUBLISHED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS.

Discuss this article

Newsletter

Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
Submit