The Story Behind Santa Claus
Ho, ho, ho! With his red suit, white beard, round belly, and jolly demeanor, Santa Claus is one of the most recognized fictional characters in the world. Sometimes known as Kris Kringle or Father Christmas, this gift-giving fellow is beloved by children who leave him milk and cookies while awaiting his arrival and the accompanying reindeer hoofsteps on the roof. Throughout the year, kids are motivated to be on their best behavior because, when Christmas comes around, Santa will know if they’ve been naughty or nice – and then judge accordingly.
Kids aren’t the only ones who love Santa! Even adults look for ways to call upon his spirit. Events like the annual SantaCon in New York City and other major cities worldwide prove that people of all ages are taken by Santa’s jolly cheer. Parents love Santa Claus because they enjoy seeing their children get excited about writing their Christmas wish lists. Santa also gives parents a festive excuse to get holiday photos with Santa at the mall!
In another blog post, we recently shared our top five ideas for creative gift giving, one of which is even called “Secret Santa”. During this festive gift exchange inspired by Santa Claus, all participants get the chance to have their own personal Santa for a day. “Oh what fun” it is to get a special gift, and Santa reminds us of the power of thoughtfulness and generosity.
It’s difficult to imagine a world without the presence of Santa in it, but he’s a relatively new phenomenon! Where did Santa come from, and what’s the history behind this legendary figure of the Christmas season? Continue reading this blog post to learn more about the story of Santa and how he grew to be so famous.
The Santa we know so well today wasn’t always depicted with his red suit and round belly. He wasn’t always eating cookies and milk, riding in his sleigh behind reindeer and managing a team of elves. Most people believe that Santa lives at the North Pole, but not everyone agrees on where he was born.
Many countries claim to be the birthplace of Santa Claus, so which one is his real home? Residents of Sweden’s Mora region insist that Santa – known there as Jultomten – lives deep in the woods near the Gesunda mountains. In fact, Mora even has a Santaworld theme park, which features elves, reindeer, Christmas-themed attractions, and Santa, of course. The people of Napapiiri, Finland also claim to be Santa’s home, and they have a Santa Claus Village where Santa (Joulupukki in Finland) appears every day of the year. In Drobak, Norway, Santa allegedly built a Christmas House next to the town’s main square.
But Myra, Turkey has proven to be Santa’s real home. In 2017, Turkish archaeologists discovered what they believe is the tomb of Saint Nicholas, the original Santa. Saint Nicholas was a monk who lived in the 4th century and was known for his generosity, especially to children. Also known as “Nicholas the Wonderworker” and the patron saint of sailors and children, he traveled all over the world to help the sick and poor. Over time, the legend of Saint Nicholas spread throughout Europe, and he became one of the most popular saints in Europe during the Renaissance. By the end of the 18th century, stories about St. Nicholas began to spread to the United States.
When he referenced St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his 1809 book The History of New York, Washington Irving helped to popularize Sinter Klaas, who could be identified by his red waistcoat. In 1823, writer Clement Clarke Moore anonymously published the Christmas poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, which later became known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. The depiction of St. Nicholas with his eight tiny reindeer, his beard as white as snow, and his belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly in many ways shaped how children see Santa today.
Santa as We Know Him
According to an article from The History Channel, “The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas).”
By the 1840s, brands and retail stores were featuring the newly-popular Santa in their advertisements. To continue attracting shoppers and their children into stores, those store owners started hiring real-life Santas. In 1863, political cartoonist Thomas Nast published two images of Santa Claus in the illustrated magazine Harper’s Weekly; one drawing shows Santa distributing presents in a Union Army camp, while the other features Santa in his sleigh, then going down a chimney. Through 1886, Nast published more than 30 illustrations in the magazine in total. The image of Santa was officially solidified in popular culture.
Soft drink maker Coca-Cola didn’t agree with Nast’s depiction of Santa and decided to hire an illustrator to bring their own vision of Jolly Old Saint Nicholas to life. In 1931, Coke commissioned Haddon Sundblom for this project. He ultimately created “a more lovable Santa: embracing children, raiding the fridge and of course sipping bottles of Coca-Cola”, according to this article from Business Insider. This is when Santa started wearing a red-and-white suit.
References to Santa Claus in popular culture are too numerous to count, but Kris Kringle from the 1947 film Miracle on 34 Street is one of the most iconic Santas. In the movie, actress Natalie Wood portrays a girl who believes Kris Kringle, played by actor Edmund Gwenn, when he says he’s the real Santa Claus.
Today, a Christmas without Santa would basically be incomplete. Since 1924, the Macy’s Santa has appeared in nearly every annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and at Macy’s department stores throughout the country. Visit any mall in America, and you’ll probably find a Santa who’s ready for children to sit on his lap, tell him what they want for Christmas, and pose for a photo.
Santa Fun Facts
Even though you think you know Santa, you probably don’t know a lot of these fun facts about him (save these for your Christmas trivia gift exchange):
1. Santa’s sleigh would need to travel at a speed of 1800 miles per second in order to reach all the children in the world, approximately 2.1 billion of them. (Source)
2. Santa was considered a bachelor until 1849, when a short story called “A Christmas Legend by James Rees revealed that he had a Mrs. Claus in his life. (Source)
3. What happens to the letters that children send to Santa? Since 1914, any letter addressed to Santa goes to a small post office in Santa Claus, Indiana. If the letter has a return address, that person will receive a reply from one of the post office’s many “elf” volunteers. (Source)
4. Children from different parts of the world leave different treats for Santa. In the United States, children will typically leave milk and cookies, but in Australia and the United Kingdom, kids leave out sherry and mince pies. In Sweden, children leave rice porridge. (Source)
5. You can attend a school to learn how to be Santa. In Westminster, Colorado, Santa University offers a four-day training program that welcomes approximately 1,000 Santa hopefuls every year. (Source)
6. Why does Santa leave coal for the “naughty” children? Well, it’s convenient. Since Santa enters houses through chimneys, he has access to a lot of coal in people’s fireplaces. It’s easy for him to grab a lump of coal and put it in a stocking. (Source)
7. In Scandinavian countries, children believed in a magical Yule goat before the modern version of Santa was popularized. This goal would wander the villages to ensure that families were preparing for Yule. (Source)
8. If it carried enough toys for all the children in the world, Santa’s sleigh would weigh more than 400,000 tons! He would need more than 360,000 reindeer to pull that much weight. (Source)
9. How much wrapping paper would the elves need to wrap enough gifts for more than 2 billion children around the world? If each child’s gift takes about 31.5″ of paper, then the elves would need about 1.6 million miles of it. That could wrap the world 60 times! (Source)
10. We’re not sure if these are actually Santa’s favorite cookies, but the most popular cookies to leave for Santa are chocolate chip and Oreos! We wonder if he ever tires of them. (Source)
At Add A Pearl, we’re inspired by gift-giving and all the different ways people and cultures around the world participate in the spirit of the holidays. What will Santa Claus be bringing this year? He knows the little girl in your life would love a cultured pearl starter necklace, which can become an annual Christmas tradition with a new pearl for every new year. Visit this page to play Santa and start building your necklace.