What was the first-ever Christmas movie? If you’re thinking It’s a Wonderful Life, then we’re afraid you’re off by about fifty years. The first known Christmas movie, and the first-ever on-screen appearance of Kris Kringle, was in 1898’s Santa Claus. This two-minute film came from the U.K., at the very dawn of the film era. You can watch the complete short film right here, thanks to YouTube channel Zenobyte.
The short film shows how well established all the classic Santa tropes were by the end of the 19th century. Santa coming down the chimney, leaving toys for sleeping children, etc. In modern times, Santa doesn’t so much bring a Christmas tree with him as much as he leaves presents under an existing one. But other than that little detail, it seems Christmas iconography hasn’t changed all that much. Well, our modern-day Santa is a little bit rounder and more jolly too.
The director was an early film pioneer named George Albert Smith, and although the camera trick seems crude by today’s standards, they were revolutionary at the time. According to Deadline, Santa Claus was one of the very first moving pictures incorporating what we call “parallel action.” In other words, allowing viewers to see Santa arriving on the rooftop of the children’s home, and also showing the nursery scene at the same time. This no doubt blew audiences away, as motion pictures were a brand new medium at the time.
It is odd that since this is a British film, they didn’t call it “Father Christmas” instead. Maybe they were gunning for an American audience even back then? Since this film originally came out in 1898, this means Saint Nick is officially our longest-running cinematic character. He beats Sherlock Holmes by about two years, and Dracula by over twenty. Now, when are all three of these guys going to team up on screen? It shouldn’t take more than a century for that to happen, right?