The Timeless Tale of Santa Claus – Then and Now

Did you know that the history of Santa Claus dates back to 1773? The name Santa Claus evolved from the Dutch nickname “Sinter Klaas,” which was a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas. Dutch families in New York used to gather in honor of the anniversary of St. Nicholas’ death on December 6th, and referred to him as “the protector of children and sailors.”

Washington Irving, the famous author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, helped popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York. As a result, American families started to center the holiday around children and gift giving. So, in the early 19th century, stores began to advertise Christmas shopping and newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements which often featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus.

In the early 1890’s, the Salvation Army needed money to pay for the Christmas meals they provided to needy families, so they began dressing men up in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets of New York to collect donations. To this day, the familiar Salvation Army Santas are ringing bells on the street corners of America, spreading joy and collecting donations for the needy.

Present day Santa Claus is known for his bright red coat, full white beard, and a sack full of toys for children. This image was first started in 1822 by an Episcopal minister, Clement Clarke Moore, who wrote a Christmas poem for his three daughters named An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas. This poem unknowingly created a new and immediately popular American icon. In 1881, cartoonist Thomas Nast drew inspiration from Moore’s poem to create the first “Santa Claus” image, which depicted Santa as a cheerful man with a white beard, holding a sack full of toys for children. He also gave Santa his bright red suit with white fur, his workshop at the North Pole, and his wife, Mrs. Claus.

Image by Getty Images.

Santa Claus has since been used in ads for just about anything. The most popular and well-known company that uses Santa Claus to advertise is Coca-Cola. Coke ads have been featuring Santa since the 1920’s, and these ads helped shape the image of present-day Santa. In 1931, Coca-Cola began placing ads in popular magazines, and wanted to show a wholesome Santa who was both realistic and symbolic. From 1931 to 1964, Coca-Cola advertising showed Santa delivering toys, pausing to read a letter and enjoy a Coke, visiting with the children who stayed up to greet him, and enjoying the treats left for him by the children.

Throughout history, the physical image of Santa Claus has changed drastically, from being described in the book The History of New York by Washington Irving as a “rascal” with a blue three-cornered hat and yellow stockings, to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a “huge pair of Flemish trunk hose.”

The modern-day Santa is known for his jolly presence, red suit, and eight reindeer who fly him all over the world to deliver presents to children. The most popular reindeer of the eight is known as “Rudolph,” and was created by Robert L. May, who created a Christmas themed story to help bring traffic into his department store. The sales trick worked; Americans loved the underdog story of Rudolph being bullied by his fellow reindeer because of his glowing red nose, and then showing how Santa needed his glowing red nose to see when the weather was foggy. Still today, Americans love rooting for Rudolph the underdog reindeer and taking their kids to get their picture with a jolly Santa Claus at their local mall.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

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Republished with permission from MercuryOne.org.