History of Santa Claus » History of Santa Claus
Photo: Santa Claus

Photo: Santa and his sleigh flying above a sleepy village on Christmas eve - a 1906 vintage illustration.

A Brief History of Santa Claus

» SEE ALSO: History of Mrs. Claus, the North Pole and the Reindeer

The history of Santa Claus begins in the 4th century in Turkey, when he was known as Saint Nicholas. He was much renowned for his generosity in giving gifts such as food and clothes to the poor and children. 

Photo:

Photo: A vintage Christmas illustration of Father Christmas with a bag of gifts (circa 1890)

After Constantine created the “Council of Nicaea,” he honored Saint Nicolas with being the patron saint of children and sailors.

A Santa Claus Biography

The 16th century Dutch are what kept the legend of Saint Nicholas alive, and they are thought to be the first people to celebrate him.  The children of Holland would put their shoes by the fire in hopes for a gift from Saint Nicholas, who was known by the Dutch as “Sint Nikolaaas.”  Over time the name was also known as “Sinterklass,” and then it became what we all know him as, Santa Claus.

Clement C. Moore, in 1822, is thought to have created the closest Santa Claus biography to date, from what he was actually like, with the creation of the red suit, big belly, and jolly-bearded man, and where St. Nicholas is supposed to have lived in the stories of Santa Claus and the north pole.  However, in Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” he depicts Santa Claus as very small and adds Norse beliefs for the reindeer and elves.

Another Santa Claus biography states that the vintage Santa Claus of earlier times was rather shy, but still wished to help the children of his hometown.  One night he went up onto a roof and dropped a purse filled with money.  The purse landed in a stocking that was being hung to dry.  The stories we know today of Santa Claus coming down the chimney were born on that night with the actions of the vintage Santa Claus, St. Nicholas.  The vintage Santa Claus is much like the one told for generations, except for one difference, St. Nicholas with all his many names, never lived in the North Pole.

Santa Claus Gains Popularity

The vintage Santa Claus figure first became popular with the Dutch people in the 16th century.  Santa only became more widely known and popular in the 19th century in the Americas.  The poem and traditional Santa Claus biography comes from Clement C. Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicholas”, whichwas published in the New York Sentinel newspaper in 1823, on December 23.  Today, Santa Claus, North Pole, and reindeer are all important parts of the Christmas holiday.

Changing Views of Santa

During the beginning history of Santa Claus, Santa underwent many styles and colors.  The common red suite reached popularity when he was pictured in a card in 1885.  In 1863 Thomas Nast, a cartoonist of the 19th century, captured and immortalized Santa Clause with a picture issued in Harper’s Weekly on January 3, 1863.

Another entry into the Santa Claus biography, and part of the explanation of how he became more popular over the years, was found in a 1920 children’s book called The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum.  This book suggested that the deer didn’t fly but rather they were able to leap gigantic miles and established that Santa was an immortal being.  The book then stated that Santa learned of the misery and the poor people of the world and wanted to bring them happiness. 

Santa as He is Found Today

The vintage Santa Claus was lost when the red suit was in essence “cemented” in Haddon Sundblom’s creation for the Coca-Cola™ cans as part of the company’s advertising campaign.  However, the Coca-Cola Company™ was not the first soda drink to use Santa Claus for advertising techniques.  White Rock Beverages™ pictured Santa on their water bottles in 1915 and again in 1923 for their ginger ale bottles.

Companies like the Salvation Army still advertise the new and vintage Santa Claus when Christmas comes along.  They do this through fundraising and charity campaigns across the world.  Many of these companies popularized Santa Claus because it was another way for Christians to tell their story to the world, even though some Christians are against the Santa Clause figure.  They also did this as a way to remember the real St. Nicholas’s deeds of generosity, love for children, and his robin hood-like style, just without the stealing.  Santa now is and forever will be one of the most known representations of Christmas.  Find out more on St. Nick here: http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/santa.asp.

» SEE ALSO: History of Mrs. Claus, the North Pole and the Reindeer