origins of santa claus

The Origins of Santa Claus

Without a doubt, the most favored character in a young child’s life is Santa Claus.  And why wouldn’t he be?  Jolly and kind in nature, gives gifts, flies with reindeer, provides a home for elves; all the stuff from which an idol is made.   Children around the world recognize the name and the figure, and for years have idolized this icon of Christmas.  While children may not wonder how and when Santa came into being, there is a story behind the mythical man.

There was no one single spark of life that ignited and grew to the famed magnitude that the character Santa Claus enjoys today.  Rather, different combinations of beliefs of various cultures culminated in the red suited, white bearded jolly soul that we all know.  However, it is universally agreed that there was a real human that began the character.  Nicholas of Myra lived in the 4th century, which is one fact that is certain.  Many stories have circulated regarding his life that may be conjecture or may be true that attribute to his generous nature.   Endowed with inherited wealth, Nicholas is said to have given away all he had to the poor as he traveled around helping those in need.    His charitable and kind manner caused his elevation to patron saint of children, sailors, and a feast day was devoted to him to be celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6th.  Through the centuries, his popularity as patron saint increased and spread throughout the world, with the country of Holland especially dedicated to his memory, where he was known as Sinter Klaas.

As immigrants drifted to the United States from Holland in the time period of the late 18th century, they naturally continued their traditional customs from their homeland.  This included their remembrance of Sinter Klaas. Over the years, St. Nicholas became less and less the benevolent bishop and more of a caricature now named Santa Claus in the United States. It was through Clement Moore’s poem “T’was the Night before Christmas” that the figure of Santa Claus along with a bevy of flying reindeer emerged, dropping into homes through the United States delivering gifts to deserving children. The story expanded, creating a home for Santa Claus in Finland where energetic elves are housed and the principal method of maintaining their lifestyles comes from the manufacture of toys. A wife even materialized in the late 1800’s.

Santa’s physical appearance evolved over a period of time. While little is known of the actual St. Nicholas’ attributes, Sinter Klaas reputedly wore red robes with a tall mitre, or bishop’s hat, and carried a golden staff. He has also been depicted in other manners such as wearing a 3-cornered blue hat, dressed in green garb with a sailor’s hat, and also cloaked in a long, flowing green fur robe. Some stories state that the red and white colors that the current day Santa is known for developed largely from the Coca Cola colors in the early 1930’s.   Santa has also been reputed as climbing down from heaven on a golden cord, riding a goat, taking a steamship and as known today, flying in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

As children everywhere embraced this character and looked forward to his yearly “visits”, he also became a valuable asset to the marketing industry. Likenesses of Santa Claus appeared in everything from Coca Cola advertisements to books and movies, all touting the increasingly famous character’s jolly and generous nature. There is no doubt that the figure of Santa Claus is highly commercial. Any depiction of his likeness is certain to cause excitement and longing on the part of a child.

St. Nicholas certainly was never aware that his kind and charitable acts during his lifetime would eventually produce such a worldwide popular creature as Santa Claus. The origins so deeply rooted in goodness and generosity have become well-loved through history in St. Nicholas’ likeness, Santa Claus.