The History Of Santa Claus

Where does santa come from and how has he changed?


Emman Harris

The origins of Santa start around 200-300 AD, with a monk named St. Nicholas.

A jolly, plump man who breaks into houses by use of their chimney, gets up one day a year to fly around the globe, visit every house in the entire world in a span of mere hours, fill up giant socks with candy and toys, all of which supposedly fit into a sack, and consumes pounds upon pounds of cookies along the way: it’s a strange concept. So where did the story of Santa (or Saint Nicholas, or Saint Nick, or Kris Kringle, or Father Christmas) even begin?

Surprisingly, the story of Santa began somewhere in the early third century. Even more shocking, according to the History Channel Santa was real. In fact, he was a monk from what is now a place known as Turkey. Saint Nicholas the monk was known for his outstanding kindness, especially towards children. He was also known for traveling around the countryside in order to help the sick and poor. 

Stories of Saint Nicholas’s kindness spread, and he began to become glorified in the average household, celebrated one day each year called the ‘Feast of Saint Nicholas,’ according to Coca-Cola (a company we will see come into play centuries upon centuries later). So how did we get from a monk traveling the countryside to an eternally old man flying around the world in one night on a sleigh that flies? 

The legend and fame of Saint Nicholas slowly started to separate from the original source material as decades and countries took artistic liberty on his depiction. Though his story also started to gain traction in Austria, France, Belgium, Russia, and Germany, the Netherlands’ version of Santa is really the one that matters when compared to modern-day Santa. The Dutch were responsible for the gift-giving aspect of Mr. Claus. That, and showing him riding a Donkey while wearing a tall Bishop’s hat- a Bishop’s hat that the current Kris Kringle’s hat looks suspiciously similar to. Because Santa rode a Donkey in Dutch mythology, children would leave out hay instead of carrots, milk and cookies. 

This image is what would be carried over to America with the Dutch colony in New Amsterdam (New York was once New Amerstam- why they changed it, I can’t say), where the Santa we know was created and became the generally agreed-upon version. But the Dutch’s version still doesn’t quite represent our Santa or quite have the magic to it. 

As most magical things do, it all started with a single, famous poem you all know: “Twas The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore. Nick’s depiction in this poem was where the character of Santa really began to develop and change him into this magical figure. It popularized Santa as a “right jolly old elf” that could go down a chimney by simply nodding his head, who flew in a sleigh led by flying reindeer to give children presents. Upon its release in 1822, this poem created the Santa we now know today, and it was so magical that Moore actually hesitated to publish it out of fear 

In 1881, the story of Santa Claus continued to fold. Due to the cartoon of Thomas Nast, Santa lived in the North with his wife and toy-making elves and wore a bright red suit trimmed with snowy whiter fur. Contrary to popular belief, this is where Santa’s classic color comes from, not Coca-Cola. These two depictions are responsible for the American version we see today, and the American Civil War, by combining him with the old, exuberant figure of Uncle Sam, polished him off. 

The reason this particular version, amongst the many, created, stuck was partly because- cynics and grinches, gather round- of Holiday card companies and manufacturers, who found this version the most marketable. However, you also have Coca-Cola to thank for this, who also began to use him in advertisements.

It turns out that Santa has a far more interesting background than we probably thought he would- who knew that the magical old dude was actually real and a monk? I certainly didn’t. I think it’s safe to say, no matter how he started, Kris Kringle has made an impact on Christmas, giving it wonderful magic to all children.