The History of Santa Claus
Many people know the legend of Santa Claus. The large, jolly man dressed in red and white is constantly around us during the Christmas season. However, do many of us really know the origins of Santa Claus and where his story came from?
Santa Claus started with a real person, Saint Nicholas. He was a saint from the fourth century and was very popular in Europe. Saint Nicholas had a reputation of generosity and kindness. It was said that he brought children back to life, and paid the marriage dowries for poor women. It is from Saint Nicholas that Santa Claus is given the characteristic of gift giving. He became the patron saint of Russia and Greece. By the sixth century, churches all over Europe were dedicated to Saint Nicholas, along with numerous artworks and plays.
After the reformation in the church, Saint Nicholas ceased to appear in the protestant countries except for Holland. Here, he was given the name Sinterklaas, which is a Dutch variation of the name Saint Nicholas. When the Dutch set up colonies in America in the 17th century, they took this tradition with them. And so, this is where the name Santa Claus is derived from.
In the 19th Century, a painter named Moris Schwind painted Santa based on the character of winter. Traditionally, winter was always an old man with a long beard, and so this is where Santa gained that part of his appearance. Later on, a German cartoonist named Thomas Nast immigrated to America, and drew numerous political cartoons of Santa, giving him a jolly look, a large stomach, a winter coat and surrounded him with toys.
However, it wasn’t until the 1930s that Santa Claus gained his red and white colours. Before this, he was often depicted as wearing blue, green, brown or gold. When Coca Cola used Santa for an advertising campaign, they dressed him in red and white, the trademark colours for the company. This proved to be the most popular image of Santa around the world, and so red and white became the official colours of his clothing.
Other parts of the Santa Claus legend are also taken from different tales. The naughty and nice list that Santa keeps originated from Nordic folk tales, in which a magician rewarded good children with presents and punished naughty children. The reason that Santa comes down a chimney, is because in Europe, leaving open a window or door is not only unsafe but also very unhealthy. Therefore, the only way for Santa to get inside the house is through the chimney. And why does Santa live and work at the north pole? It became a popular residence for Santa because a majority of the world’s population lives in the northern hemisphere. Christmas was a winter based holiday for most of the world, and so Santa’s residence also had to be somewhere wintery. It also meant that Children couldn’t see his workshop, so they wouldn’t be able to find it, making the story more believable for the younger children.
Most don’t realise that Santa has such a long history, or that his story is made up from different traditions and tales from around the world. The image of Santa Claus is still around us today, and will no doubt survive for many more years.
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