It’s only fitting that since Santa Claus has the magnificent capability to visit homes around the world in a single night that more than one place would claim to be his home. It’s common belief that Santa hails from the wintry North Pole, but folks in Finland will also tell you that Santa calls that country his home. To prove it, the Finns will even invite you to visit Santa in his workshop before Christmas or during the year and talk with Santa Claus as he and his elves busy themselves for their end-of-year Christmas expedition around the globe.
The popularity in America today of the images and legend of Santa Claus can be traced to the poem, ’Twas the Night Before Christmas,’ that was written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822. In that poem, Moore described St. Nicholas as a jolly fellow who flew from house to house in a sleigh pulled by reindeers and waited for children to go to bed on Christmas Eve before he came down the chimney to deliver Christmas presents for them.
Following the distribution of that poem, the popular magazine Harper’s Weekly published cartoons by Thomas Nast between 1863 and 1886 that depicted Santa as a cheerful fellow with a large round belly and long white beard who wore a bright red suit that was trimmed with white fur. In those cartoons, Santa also held a sack, which was filled with toys for boys and girls, over his shoulder. The cartoons also showed Santa reading letters from good boys and girls, working in his workshop with his elves, checking his list to make sure he had all the required toys and even showed his wife, Mrs. Claus.
The tradition of Santa Claus was brought to America however by Dutch colonists who settled in New York City, which was called New Amsterdam at the time.
The real St. Nicholas is said to be a minor saint from the 4th Century with a reputation for generosity and kindness that gave rise to legends of many miracles that he performed for the poor and unhappy. One of the stories about the legend of St. Nicholas is that he saved three poor girls who were sisters from being sold into a life of slavery or prostitution by their father. According to the legend, Santa Claus provided the girls with a dowry so that they could get married.
The legend of St. Nicholas led to hundreds of people being devoted to him and consequently thousands of European churches became dedicated to him. After the Reformation period however, widespread practice and worship of St. Nicholas disappeared in European countries that were Protestant, except in Holland where the legend of St. Nicholas continued. St. Nicholas was known as Sint Nikolaas but that was later corrupted to Sinter Klaas.
Dutch colonists took this tradition of Sinter Klaas to New York City where it was adopted using the Englist name of Santa Claus. Over time, the Dutch legend of the kindly saint was combined with old Nordic folktales about a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good ones with presents to give rise to the stories that now exist about Santa Claus.
The red and white-trimmed suit of Santa Claus is believed to be the colors that the original St. Nicholas wore because red and white were the colors of the robes worn by traditional bishops. It is also believed that the Coca Cola Co. played a role in what is regarded as the popular look of Santa Claus today through paintings by artist Haddon Sundblom that were placed in some of the company’s advertisement between 1931 and 1964.
Originally published at The Christmas Blog.