Santa Claus in one form or other
is a familiar figure to people all
over the world, but the weight
advantaged, red suited, old man
variety is of comparative recent
Giving gifts during the festive
Season is however an old and
Modern Santa is a mixture of many
historical and cultural traditions.
St Nicholas of Myria
St Nicholas of Myria was born circa 280 AD
In Patara (now Turkey) and is the patron
saint of sailors, merchants, wrongly
accused, endangered travelers and farmers.
One of his gracious deeds was to give gold
To a poor man with three daughters. This
meant the girls could have dowries and
St Nicholas wanted to remain anonymous
and threw three bags of gold down the
chimney. The gifts landed in the girls
stockings and henceforth we hang up
Christmas Stocking on Christmas Eve.
During the reign of Henry VIII, Father
Christmas was depicted as a large man
in green or scarlet robes lined with fur.
He typified the spirit of good cheer at
Christmas, bringing peace, joy, good
food and wine and revelry.
England no longer kept the feast day of
Saint Nicholas on 6 December, and
Father Christmas celebration was
moved to 25 December to coincide
with Christmas Day.
The Christkind is a sprite-like child
depicted with blond hair and angelic
wings. He is the traditional Christmas
gift-bringer in many European and
Martin Luther openly discouraged
St. Nicholas, and after the Protestant
Reformation changed the gift bringer
to the Christ Child or Christkindl. The
Date of giving gifts also changed from
December 6 to Christmas Eve.
Christkindl or Christkindel are
diminutive versions of Christkind.
Modern Santa probably came
From North America (via Holland) and
is likely to be only 200 hundred years
old. He first appeared in literature
about 1822 in the famous children's
'Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house Not a
creature was stirring, not even a
mouse; The stockings were hung by
the chimney with care, In hopes
that St. Nicholas soon would be
Many historians believe Santa came
from a mispronunciation of
Thomas Nast’s Santa
In 1863, a picture of Santa illustrated by
caricaturist and political cartoonist,
Thomas Nast appeared on the cover of
The character was first introduced
During the civil war and the image of
Santa Claus continued to evolve over
the next two years.
The story that Santa Claus lives at the
North Pole may also have been a Nast
In France the legend is Père
Noël (Father Christmas) was
so cold one Christmas Eve,
he burnt the clogs of a little
girl to keep himself warm. As a
compensation he left gifts.
French children lay out their
shoes (traditionally sabots) in
the anticipation Père Noël
(Father Christmas) who will fill
them with presents.
In Spain, Christmas is traditionally a
Religious festival and the Spanish still do
not recognise Santa Claus. Children do
however look forward to gifts during
One Spanish tradition was for children to
leave their shoes on the windowsill stuffed
full of straw, carrots, and barley to feed the
Horse and donkeys of the Wise Men.
Balthazar is a welcome visitor for he is the
Spanish Santa and on Christmas morning
children's shoes are filled with gifts.
Babouschka and La Befana
The Russian Christmas gift giver is a woman
called Babouschka and like her Italian
Counterpart La Befana, portray an old ladies
who failed offer help and food to the Wise
Men on their journey to the baby Jesus.
For penance the women search in vein
Carrying gifts which they give to well behaved
In Italy the Christmas gifts are given on
Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5). In
Belgium children get their presents on the 6th
December i.e. St Nicholas Day
The Coca-Cola Company began its
Christmas advertising in magazines in the
The first Santa ads used a strict-looking
Claus, in the vein of Thomas Nast. In 1930,
artist Fred Mizen painted a department
store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of
Later they commissioned illustrator
Haddon Sundblom to develop Santa
images. For inspiration the artist took
"'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and
based the character upon his friend.
American artist Norman
Rockwell had done a
of paintings with Saint
Nicholas wearing red and
White including A Drum
Tommy which appeared on
the cover of The Country
Gentleman in 1921.