Originally, there was Saint Nicolas...
It's Saint Nicolas, which is celebrated on December 6, who inspired the character of Santa Claus. Indeed, the patron saint of small children is traditionally responsible for rewarding good children by giving them gifts. His original sidekick, the Bogeyman, was responsible for punishing naughty children. (Learn more about this ancestor of Santa Claus in our Saint Nicolas article). It was not until the 19th century that Santa Claus came to exist as we know him.
It actually started in the United States, where Saint Nicolas was imported under the name of Santa Claus by the Dutch immigrants. First, the date of distribution of gifts by Saint Nicolas was gradually moved to December 25, to coincide with Christmas and to celebrate children. It was then through a poem written by American minister Clement Clarke Moore, entitled "A Visit From St. Nicholas", that the character of Saint Nicolas was adapted and softened. This poem, which was widely distributed, showed Santa Claus as less of a religious, moral enforcer and more of a jolly gift-giver, complete with a hat and 8 reindeer to pull his sleigh of presents. Then, around 1850, influenced by illustrators Thomas Nast and John Tenniel, Santa Claus took the shape we know today: a plump old man dressed in a white fur-trimmed jacket and trousers. The illustrations hesitated for a while between red and green for Santa's outfit, but eventually landed on red.
Santa goes commercial
Companies quickly realized the value of advertising such a nice persona, and so that version of Santa was used in advertising campaigns for Michelin, Coca Cola, and many others. These images were broadcast on such a scale that many people believe that the red color of Santa Claus was invented by Coke itself. In fact the color red was associated with Santa long before the famous Coca Cola poster of the 30's. It is true, however, that these beautiful illustrations helped to further popularize the character of Santa Claus.
In Europe, Santa Claus appeared at the time of World War I and quickly became the emblematic character of Christmas. However, he has not quite succeeded in ousting Saint Nicolas, which continues to be very celebrated, especially in Belgium and eastern France.
Evolution of the legend
Now Santa is known worldwide. Even some non-Christian families open presents deliverd by the jolly ol' fellow. Some staunch Christians don't like the commercialization and secularization of the holiday since it shifts focus away from the birth of Jesus, but many families can happily enjoy both parts - the religious origins and the modern Santa Claus version.
Make history of your own with our Santa-themed Christmas ecards! Ho, ho, ho!
Singing Christmas Carols
North Pole Christmas