We all love the fat, jolly, white-bearded Santa Claus who sits in the chair at the retail stores since our childhood, but it helps to know that there is so much more to the historic presence of Santa Claus than that. I’m sure you have heard of St. Nicholas and the traditional references to “Jolly old St. Nick,” but there is much more to the story of the creation of this beloved character than that.

Santa Claus, a.k.a. Saint Nicholas or Kris Kringle, has a long Christmas history. While he is the jolly man in red who brings toys to good girls and boys on Christmas Eve today, his story stretches all the way back to the 3rd century, when Saint Nicholas walked the earth and became the patron saint of children.

Other historic characters around these classic traditions include:

  • The British figure of Father Christmas, who was basically quite the same as St. Nicholas.
  • The Dutch figure of Sinterklaas was also based on Saint Nicholas.
  • Then there was the Germanic deity Wodan, associated with the pagan midwinter event of Yule and led the Wild Hunt, a ghostly procession through the sky, much like Santa Claus in many ways.

So, as time progressed in the celebration of Christmas, Santa Claus became depicted as a portly, jolly, white-bearded man wearing a red suit with white fur cuffs, a red hat with white fur, and black leather belt and boots and carrying a bag full of gifts for children. This more recent image came from the United States and Canada in the 19th century primarily from the 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast also played a role in the creation of Santa’s image, and over time standard holiday traditions helped this image to stick.

Most importantly, similar to historic lords who crossed the world bringing gifts to children, it became more theatrical and entertaining with time. Some things included the lists of good and bad names that determined which children would receive gifts. This was followed by the belief that bad children would be left coal under their trees.

And then it happens! On the night of Christmas Eve Santa Claus flies from his home at the North Pole where his elves live and Mrs. Klaus along with his toy workshop, wistfully delivering toys worldwide with the help of his reindeer that pull his sleigh. With a simple call of “Ho ho ho” across the skies, he has the ability to provide Santa magic to make Christmas a happy time for all children worldwide.