Who is Santa Claus?

You can’t think of Christmas without thinking of Father Christmas! The white beard, the elves, the sleigh – these images are everywhere during the festive season. He’s a character that is portrayed in films, in music and just about every other element of Christmas. But do you know how this jolly character came to be what we know today?

Santa Claus grew out of the historical figure Saint Nicholas who was a 4th century Greek Bishop. He was famous for his generosity and gifts to the poor, so much so that in Europe during the middle ages children would traditionally be given gifts on his name day, the 6th of December. However during the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther believed more attention should be paid to Christ and not Saint Nicholas, and so the tradition was moved to the 24th and 25th of December. But of course, Saint Nicholas remained a popular figure, even today you will still hear the name Saint Nic!

In England the character of Father Christmas can be traced back to the time of Henry the VIII as being a symbol of Christmas cheer, however his physical appearance was most famously captured in Charles Dickins’ A Christmas Carol during the Victorian period. The Ghost of Christmas Present was a cheerful bearded man in a green fur-lined coat who brought happiness to the masses on Christmas Day.

The American name Santa Claus comes from the Dutch ‘Sinterklaas’, and it’s during the 20th century where Santa Claus’ appearance becomes what we know today. During the 1930’s Coca-Cola portrayed him in a red and white coat in their advertisements, and the popularity of the image led to the urban legend that Coca-Cola invented Santa Claus to promote their company!

Santa Claus became more and more popular. Traditions such as Santas ‘visiting’ shopping centres, being part of parades and fathers dressing up as him to surprise the family take place all over the world today. Children will write out their Christmas lists and leave out treats for him on Christmas Eve, and wonder HOW he’ll get down the chimney!