The good-natured street art is a recent phenomenon in Minneapolis, but its roots can be traced back to Boston circa 2002. An anonymous tagger--known only to the media by the clever pseudonym "Tagger"--began stenciling the holiday message in red paint around the Harvard Square neighborhood, eventually spreading to greater Boston, often on or near toy stores. Reportedly a 40-something mother with a street-punk background, Tagger told the Boston Phoenix at the time that she came up with the slogan after a car she was riding in narrowly avoided an accident. "Instead of saying, 'Thank God we didn't crash,' all I kept saying was, 'Santa is real, Santa is real.'"
It's a cute story, but it sounds a bit contrived. The more likely explanation is that Tagger developed the stencil in homage to the classic "Frodo Lives" graffiti that appeared on college campuses and subway cars during the '60s, with a nod to the 1960 Louvin Brothers album Satan Is Real (best known today for its appearance on this list of the worst album covers of all time). By the look of it, the Minneapolis version (photographed by CP reader Brad Biggs) is the work of a mimic graf writer, since the original was a stencil and lacked the adorable illustration.
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