The Community and Events that Created Santa Claus


[I thought this repost from last December might be interesting to share with your friends as we enter the Christmas season…]

Christmas is a multi-billion dollar consumer-spending "tradition".
It’s the ultimate excuse to buy. Unfortunately, the originally
intended meaning of Christmas gets lost in this annual shopping
frenzy. Nonetheless, it is a marketing marvel to see how the Santa
Claus "Brand" developed.

Here is the story of players and events that solidified Santa Claus
and Christmas traditions. (Adapted with permission from Lee Krystek,
curator at

The original St. Nicholas lived in southwestern Turkey in the 4th
century. He was credited with doing miracles for children. After he
died, he was given his own ‘feast day’ on December 6th.

About the same time, Pope Julius I decided to establish a date  for the
celebration of the birth of Jesus. The actual date of His birth was
unknown, but he hoped assigning this date would help ‘Christianize’
pagan festivals occurring at the same time.

3. Eventually, Saint Nicholas’s feast day was moved to December  25th, and his connection with Christmas was established.

A tradition developed that he would supposedly visit homes on Christmas
Eve and children would place nuts, apples, sweets and other  items
around the house to welcome him.

5. As the Reformation took a hold of much of Europe, however, the
popularity of St. Nicholas dropped in most Protestant countries, with
the exception of Holland where he was referred to as "Sinter Klaas."

6. After this tradition came to the United States, "Sinter Klass"  would eventually be corrupted to "Santa Claus."

It’s been said that Dutch settlers brought the tradition of  Saint
Nicholas to the North American city of New Amsterdam (which the
British would later rename "New York").

8. However, research
shows there’s little evidence that Nicholas  played much of a part in
these settlers celebrations. It seems more likely that Saint Nicholas
became an American tradition during a wave of interest in Dutch customs
following the Revolutionary War.

9. Washington Irving (of Sleepy Hollow fame) included him in a comic book, History of New York City written in 1809.

John Pintard, founder of the New York Historical Society, took an
especially keen interest in the legend and the Society hosted its first
St. Nicholas anniversary dinner in 1810.

11. Artist Alexander
Anderson was commissioned to draw an image of  the Saint for the
dinner. He was still shown as a religious figure, but  now he was also
clearly depositing gifts in children’s stockings which  were hung by
the fireplace to dry.

12. Perhaps nothing has fixed the image
of Santa Claus so firmly in the American mind as a poem entitled A
Visit from St. Nicholas written  by Clement Moore in 1822. Moore, a
professor of biblical languages at New York’s Episcopal Theological
Seminary, drew upon Pintard’s belief of the early New Amsterdam
traditions and added some elements from German and Norse legends. These
stories held that a happy little  elf-like man presided over midwinter
pagan festivals. In the poem, Moore depicts the Saint as a tiny man
with a sleigh drawn by eight miniature reindeer. They fly him from
house to house and at each residence he comes down the chimney to fill
the stockings hung by the fireplace with gifts.

13. Moore had
written the poem for the enjoyment of his own family, but in 1823 it
was published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel. It  became very popular
and has been reprinted countless times under the more familiar title, The Night Before Christmas.

Where did Moore get the reindeer? The Saami people of northern
Scandinavia and Finland often used reindeer to pull their sledges
around and this found its way into the poem. Reindeer, which are much
sturdier animals than North American deer, are well adapted to cold
climates with their heavy fur coats and broad, flat hooves for walking
on snow.

As time went by, more and more was added to the Santa Claus legend.
Thomas Nast, a 19th century cartoonist, did a series of drawings for
Harper’s Weekly. Nast’s vision of Santa had him living at the North
Pole. Nast also gave him a workshop for building toys and a large book
filled with the names of children who had been naughty or nice.

The 19th century Santa was often shown wearing outfits of  different
colors: purple, green and blue in addition to red. This slowly faded
out so that by the beginning of the 20th century the standard image of
Santa Claus was a man in a red suit trimmed with white. The Coca-Cola
Company has often been cited for cementing the image of Santa with the
colors red and white through a series of popular advertisements in the
1940’s depicting Saint Nick enjoying their product (Cola-Cola’s company
colors are red and white). The truth is that by the time the ads came
out, Santa (in the public’s mind) was already wearing only his modern

4 Responses

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