The History of Santa Claus

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Saint Nicholas

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas or Kris Kringle, is someone everyone has heard of, especially children. He is mainly thought of as a jolly man who slides down chimneys to give presents and treats to kids on Christmas. But what exactly are his origins?

The legend of Santa can be traced back hundreds of years, all the way back to a monk named St. Nicholas. Many people admired Nicholas for his kindness and piety, so much that he became the subject of multiple legends. Nicholas’s popularity spread throughout the span of many years, and he began to be known as the protector of children and sailors. He even has a feast day, which occurs on December 6, the anniversary of his death. Traditionally, this was considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married.

“Santa Claus” originally evolved from Nicholas’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas. In 1804, a New York Historical Society member, John Pintard, spread woodcuts of St. Nick. The engraving’s background contained Santa images that people are now familiar with, including stockings filled with toys and fruit, hung over a fireplace.

Gift-giving has been a very important part of Christmas since the rejuvenation of the holiday in the early 19th century. In 1820, stores started advertising Christmas shopping, and newspapers created separate sections for holiday advertisements by the 1840s, including pictures of the new, popular Santa Claus. In 1841, thousands of children went to a shop in Philadelphia to see a life-size model of Santa. It didn’t take long for stores to attract children with a “live” Santa Claus. 

Clement Clarke Moore wrote a long Christmas poem to his three daughters in 1822, and called it “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” more famously known as “Twas The Night Before Christmas.” His poem is very responsible for the modern-day description of Santa Claus, a “right jolly old elf” with the ability to slide down chimneys. Moore’s poem definitely helped popularize the image of Santa flying on a sleigh, led by reindeer, from house to house delivering presents. Thomas Nast, a cartoonist, drew on Moore’s poem to create a similarity to what Santa Claus looks like now. His cartoon was what gave Santa his bright red suit, elves, and a North Pole setting of his workshop. Nast also was the creator of Santa’s wife, Mrs. Claus.