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.”
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 (see above).
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.”