When most of us think of Santa Claus, we have the vision of the big jolly man in a red suit, red cheeks, and a sparkle in his eye. Quite possibly from the Coca-Cola ad from 1931? But his legend reaches much farther back than that. We did a little research so you can help teach your kids or bring a really great factoid or two to your next holiday gathering!
The OG Saint Nick
There was an actual Saint Nicholas way back in the third century. There isn’t much known about him since most of what was written about him was captured years after his death. Apparently, he was the son of a wealthy Greek family and well known for his secret gift-giving. Sound familiar? He is the patron saint to many, including sailors, merchants, and, especially, children. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6.
Santa Heads to The Big Apple
Saint Nicholas was a hugely popular saint, so it is no surprise a few Dutch immigrants to America began gathering together in the 1770s to honor him. The name Santa Claus evolved from the Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). Now you know! It was at this time that images of him with stockings full of fruit and toys next to the fireplace began to surface. By the 1840s his image was being used to promote Christmas shopping and in the 1890s The Salvation Army began dressing their volunteers up as Santa Claus to collect donations. Another tradition we still see today.
‘Twas the Night Before…
We can all thank Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, for writing a poem for his three daughters that included a description of Santa we still use today as a ‘right jolly old elf’ who rode in ‘a miniature sleigh’. Cartoonist Thomas Nast illustrated the first depiction of the Santa we know today as a round, white-bearded man in a bright red suit. Then as we know, Coca-Cola created their ad in 1931 that really set Santa’s ‘brand’ in stone. The 1947 classic, “Miracle on 34th Street” brought Santa Claus to life in cinemas across the globe and well, his legend continues!
While we all love the Classic American Santa, he does exist in other forms across the globe such as the familiar name, Kris Kringle, in Switzerland and Germany. Jultomten delivers gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats in Scandinavia, Father Christmas visits homes on Christmas Eve in England, and Père Noël stuffs excited children’s shoes with candy in France.