Have a Jolly Christmas Spirit: The History of Santa Claus

1930's Coca Cola Ad featuring Santa ClauseIn America today, children grow up knowing Santa as a jolly old man, and he is the one who delivers the presents every Christmas Eve to homes all over the world. In order to accomplish such a feat, he flies through the air on a sled led by magical reindeer and has help from elves to make the toys. Since Santa keeps a list of children who have been naughty and nice, this notion gives children a reason to behave all year round so they receive gifts instead of coal.

In an effort to keep the spirit of Christmas alive for boys and girls, parents often go above and beyond the call of duty. Some eat and drink the milk and cookies that are put out for Santa, while others wrap “Santa’s” gifts in different wrapping paper. How do you prove the existence of flying reindeer, you might wonder? Some dedicated mothers and fathers use the household pet to make tracks in the snow. When children are young, it’s amazing what parents will do to preserve the magic of Christmas.

The History of Santa Claus

The familiar Santa we know today wasn’t always portrayed this way. His image originated from Sinterklaas, which was a Dutch figure in the 17th century. Sinterklaas visited homes on Christmas Eve, December 24 or his Feast Day, December 6 (Saint Nicholas Day) and brought presents to children late at night while they were sleeping. In Greece, the mythological figure delivering presents was Basil of Caesarea, and he would exchange gifts on his Feast Day, January 1.

The Dutch imagery of St. Nick was put to life in 1809 by Washington Irving when he published History of New York. In Irving’s description, he had Santa riding horseback to travel, but later in 1823, writer Clement Clark Moore elaborated in his poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” and added reindeer, elves and the chimney into the picture. Between the 1860s and 1880s, illustrator Thomas Nast created the first American image of Santa Claus in issues of Harper’s magazine. This is when Santa gained pounds, a workshop at the North Pole, and the infamous list of good and bad children.

Finally, in 1931, the fashionably red suited Santa became an iconic figure for Coca-Cola advertisements. Interestingly enough, in 1939, Montgomery Ward Company was responsible for inventing the ninth and most memorable reindeer, Rudolph who had the bright red nose.

The imagery of Santa didn’t come from one source. It has evolved over time from its early Christian origins and Germanic and Dutch folklore to its modern and American variations. Over time, this unforgettable Christmas character has been significant to the enjoyment, magic and whimsy that kids and adults alike relish in during this special time of year.

Add the Magic of Santa to Your Home Décor

Santa Claus may have derived from legend, but it doesn’t mean you can’t add his charm and grace to your holiday home décor. ‘Tis the season to get in the spirit, and regardless of your religion, you can have fun decorating and creating a winter wonderland indoors for family and friends to wonder over.

Santa inspired tree ornaments are one touch you don’t want to forget this year. Even if it’s not tradition for your family to have a tree, you can decorate your doors and indoor plants with them. Also, to get children excited, you can surprise them with a real life Santas, and props like a Santa chair and foot rest will really thrill them.

Another option is to give your home a more modern look with an illuminated life size Santa. Or, why not try a Santa on a motorcycle? This is definitely a unique look, but you can always go with more traditional styles like Santa holding a toy bag or Santa with a train and bear.

Just imagine your home this holiday season…it could be filled with fanciful elements such as a life size Santa, sparkling snowflakes and maybe other large Christmas ornament figures like an elf or reindeer too. You can design a delightful atmosphere inside and out that will thrill children of all ages. Ho, ho, ho…Merry Christmas!


Marina Hanes is a writer and owner of Cat’s Eye Editing, LLC. She received a B.A. in Professional Writing & Editing from Youngstown State University, and her professional area of focus is Environmental Studies.

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