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The Origins of Santa Claus

Santa Claus has a long history of his own. The story of the jolly man in red known across the world dates back centuries ago. In the fourth century A.D, there was a man named Nicholas who became a bishop of a village called Myra – modern day Turkey. This resulted in the legend of how millions of children began to wait for Santa Claus each year on Christmas Eve.

The Legend of St. Nicholas

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to around 280 A.D. In a little village called Patara in Myra, a man named Nicholas was born. He later became a monk and was known as St Nicholas. Much admired for his religious nature and kindness, it was said he distributed all his inherited wealth to the poor and sick across the country. St Nicholas is also known for saving three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father. Over the years, his generosity spread across nations and he was widely known as a protector of children and sailors.

St Nicholas’ feast day is celebrated on December 6 – the anniversary of his death. In most traditions, it is considered a lucky day to get married or make large purchases. St Nicholas has maintained his popularity across Europe and especially across Netherlands even after the Protestant reformation in which the worship of saints began to be discouraged.

Sinter Klass in New Yorksanta claus

St Nicholas made his first appearance in American culture at the end of the 18th century. In December 1773 and 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families who lived in America had gathered to honour the anniversary of his death.

The name Santa Claus evolved from St Nicholas’ Dutch nickname – Sinter Klass – which is a shortened form of Sint Nikolass (Dutch for St Nicholas).

The popular image of Santa Claus also evolved in 1804 when John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St Nicholas at the society’s annual meeting. This gave rise to the well-known engravings in stockings, toys and other Christmas ornaments.

In 1809, Washington Irving commercialised Sinter Klass stories when he referred to him as the patron saint in his book. As the popularity of St Nicholas grew, he was described by some as a rascal with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings while others thought of him as a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a huge pair of Flemish trunk hose!

How Coca-Cola shaped the Modern Image of Santa Claus

Coca-Cola began Christmas advertising in the 1920s with shopping-related ads in magazines. The first advertisement of Santa looked like a strict looking Claus, in the vein of Thomas Nast. In 1930, an artist called Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of coke. The advertisement featured the world’s largest soda fountain, which was located in the Famous-Barr Co. department store in St. Louis.

In 1931, Coca-Cola began placing ads in popular magazines. The advertising agency working with Coca-Cola Company wanted to show a wholesome Santa who was both realistic and symbolic. This gave rise to the development of advertising using Santa Claus – showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa.

As an inspiration, Clement Clark Moore wrote a poem in 1822 – ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ – commonly known as ‘Twas the Night before Christmas’. The warm, friendly and pleasantly plump Santa was as a result of Moore’s description. However, the original image of Santa already appeared in a red coat even before Moore’s description.

The CareCo blog wishes all our readers a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year!